The Reason We Live With Mediocrity.. Ostrich-ing

Fight or Flight is thought to be a typical human response to stressful situations. According to this, we are either primed to respond with strong action or to run away from the situation.

This theory fails to account for a vital third response – Doing an Ostrich i.e. burying our heads in the sand.

And my belief is that we do an ostrich much more than we like to admit.

That’s why..

..executives in ‘customer oriented companies’ live with horrible customer feedback.

..managers in teams with high attrition rates see nothing unusual.

..we live with broken commitments like missing our daily dose of exercise, reading or writing.

Our lizard brains just pretend nothing happened.

In these situations, fight i.e. tackling the problem would be great. Flight i.e deciding that the problem is not worth our time would also be just fine.

It’s ostrich-ing i.e. pretending that these problems don’t exist that kills us. And it’s why we live with mediocrity – because we pretend it doesn’t exist!

Seth Godin rightly pointed out that we need less resolutions and more commitments in 2012.

My belief is that we need to watch out for the ostrich within us and actually kick on with decisions. Say No to more and actually Do what we say Yes to.

Fight or Flight in 2012. No Ostrich-ing.

One at a Time

It took me a while to get my head around this concept of blogging. I feel I have an understanding now. Well, at least that’s what I think.

As a beginner blogger, I was admittedly hoping for the day this blog made a break through i.e. when a viral post took the internet by storm. And, in my imagination, all of a sudden, this blog would soon have a teeming group of engaged commenters who would all share their learnings and make for a really cool community.

The picture was complete in my head. The only missing piece was the viral/break through post.

Well, one such post came. Then another couple. And it all made complete sense when Seth Godin came along with a piece of genius.

Preparing for the breakthrough/calamity

That’s what we spend most of our time doing. The breakthrough speech that will change everything, or the giant insight that opens every door. We fret about the apocalyptic ending, the big crash, the slam climax as well.

Of course, it almost never happens that way.

Products and services succeed one person at a time, as the word slowly spreads. Customers defect one person at a time, as hearts are broken and people are disappointed. Doors open, sure, but not all at once. One at a time.

One at a time is a little anticlimactic and difficult to get in a froth over, but one at a time is how we win and how we lose.

Incredible insight. I was reflecting on this blog the other day and we are seeing the beginnings of a lovely community here.

We are seeing comment bloggers (A comment blogger is a person who leaves comments that can (and should be) entire blog posts, but they leave them on other people’s blogs) like Bruno join in and share great insights from time to time. This is in addition to the growing group of regulars who share their thoughts from time to time.

And, guess what, they all came one at a time. No viral post. No break through. One at a time is indeed how we win and how we lose.

Thanks for making 2011 great, guys!

Looking forward to more building in 2012.

One at a time, of course.. ;-)

ALearningaDay Book Oscars: The 5 Books of 2011

Note: These books were not necessarily published in 2011. These were chosen from the books I read this year.

This year’s been a good one for books. I think I managed to keep up 30 mins/week day pretty much throughout the year and read 24 books. Very few of those disappointed. And that naturally meant I had great difficulty keeping this list down to 5.

But, there are only 5 Oscars and I had to define some judging criteria. In an effort to keep it simple, my judging criteria was the following –

1. I have to use the word ‘Mind blowing’ when I refer to the book. ‘Awesome’ is minimum requirement.

2. The book should have impacted me in real life i.e. inspired real change.

Now that we’ve gotten that straightened out, it’s time for the actual awards!

Winner – Book of the Year: Switch by Chip and Dan Heath

Why? This book passes both tests with ease. Regulars on this blog have likely seen many a Book Learning (posted typically on Sunday’s) in the last few months from Switch.

The reason this book tops the list is because of an incredible number of anecdotes that have simple messages and for the fact that it has inspired me to dig deeper into the logic/emotion balance and it’s impact on our happiness and our ability to get things done. I’m now amidst reading the book that is the source of the now famous elephant rider analogy called The Happiness Hypothesis and boy, this book looks like it’s going to be a winner.

Incredible book. Amazing learnings. Thanks Chip and Dan.

1st Runner Up – Book of the Year: Change Your Questions, Change Your Life by Marilee Adams

Why? This book also passes both tests easily. This was my choice ‘gift book’ in 2011. I think I ended up gifting 10 odd copies of the book to friends and family.

And of course, one incredibly deep insight that I’ve thought of most times I’ve found myself feeling negative or unhappy.

Big impact. Great book!

2nd Runner Up – Book of the Year: Gifts Differing by Isabel Briggs Myers

Why? Deep book with many great insights. This book was again one of those that had high personal impact and has changed the way I see the world. In many ways, it has helped me empathize with different types of people better. Much better.

Great book. A must read. To just understand ourselves better.

Fourth Place – Book of the Year: Ready for Anything by David Allen

Why? David Allen just gets it. That’s why.

I must admit I wasn’t the biggest fan of his best seller ‘Getting Things Done’. I found the book very instructive and very focused on the what. In this book, David Allen takes understanding the principles of GTD to a whole new level.

The book focuses on the why and how of hacking our productivity and our brains. Must read for all those productivity geeks out there.

Fifth Place – Book of the Year: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Why? Few 2011 lists would not include Steve Jobs’ autobiography. And for very good reason. The book is very well written and is a page turner in many ways.

It tells the story of one of the greatest entrepreneurs of this generation (and, of any, perhaps?) complete with all the ups and downs that were part of the journey. It helped me understand what made Jobs the man he was and gave me tons of learnings along the way.

Great book. Another must read!

Special Mention – Book of the Year: Too Big to Fail by Andrew Ross Sorkin

Why? This book is riveting. A page turner a la Dan Brown except it is non fiction. I’m not sure if the story of a financial crisis has ever been told in such entertaining fashion. Or if it ever will be.

The Other Nominees

1. First, Break All The Rules by Marcus Buckingham

2. Drive by Dan Pink

3. The Lessons of History by Will Durant

4. An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth by Mohandas K Gandhi

5. Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh

With that, we come to the end of the 2011 edition of the ALearningaDay Book Oscars. For more information on all things books, do check out Everything Books.

Until 2012 then.. :-)

City of Dreams or City of Nightmares

A Londoner friend once spoke of London’s ability to reflect your feelings about her. She spoke of London’s ability to transform into a City of Dreams..or a City of Nightmares depending on what you saw, and felt.

Simple reflection. A really deep insight. And one that I found true as well. 

The big question – Isn’t it the same with our lives?

Weep Alone or Laugh Alone

‘Laugh and the world laughs with you. Weep, and you weep alone.’

As a close friend observed the other day, this quote hardly represents reality.

In real life, misery always finds company. Think of the last time you faced misfortune and you will remember the many who came by to offer their sympathies and condolences. And thank god they went out of their way to do that too. When things go bad, it is helpful to know we don’t have to worry about support.

What happens, though, when you get a raise, get that promotion, get recognized in your community or get a whole bunch of regular customers in your business? Who do you celebrate those small wins with?

It is likely that the framily (close friends and family) with whom you celebrate these wins are those most likely to be truly happy for you. Your true support group. Your cheerleaders. There are few who laugh with you, without envy or jealousy at what you’ve achieved or gotten thanks to sheer luck.

I hope you celebrate them. For, in reality, there are many around us when we weep but few around us when we laugh.

The RIGHT Way to Travel

There are many inspirational blog posts out in the blogosphere on Travel. Some of the more inspirational ones give you reasons to travel wide whilst you are young. Yet some others talk about the ‘right’ way to travel. Of course, the ‘right’ way is highly dependent on the biases of the blogger involved. Nevertheless, there’s a lot of good literature out there on ‘how’ to travel.

I thought I’d provide the counter point. I don’t believe there is a ‘right’ way to travel.

There are many kinds of vacations.

By type, there are
mountain-acations (think: adventure, trekking, rafting)
beach-acations (think: beaches (duh..), water sports, walks by the water etc),
tourist-acations (think: wake up 8am, tourist map, lots of pictures),
visit-acations (think: visiting family, lots of meeting and renewing friendship and family ties) and
relax-acations (think: sleep, more sleep).

By people, there are
single-acations (think: no thinking required)
romance-acations (think: as above)
friends-acations (think: fun and merriment)
family-acations (think: sweet memories.. and thinking about your friends once in a while. ;-))
relative-acations (think: boring family reunions)

By budget, there are
hostel-acations (think: pampering your wallet)
style-acations (think: pampering yourself)

By energy requirements, there are
thrill-acations (think: so much activity that you need a vacation after your vacations)
recharge-acations (think: raring to go after your vacation!)

Now, given we have so many kinds of vacations/travel types, how can there be a RIGHT way to travel?

The simple truth is that there isn’t. There are two other facts that are often forgotten.

Firstly, the concept of travel is cultural. If you are European, taking a year off after college to travel is very normal. If you’re Asian, it’s absurd. But, then again, Asians don’t get their education sponsored. So, even if there’s longing, there’s nothing in the bank account.

Secondly, our willingness to travel likely also depends on our state in life i.e. our circumstances. If you are doing building something very exciting at this stage in life, then travel can wait. Every dollar you earn may be better off being invested in what you’re building.

The reason I say this is because our Facebook lives demand a bit of travel to stay hip. Travel when young, increase your country count, take cool photos etc.

If you decide to do it, I hope you think about why you’re traveling and make sure you enjoy the experience.

If you don’t like bungee jumping and thrill-acations, that’s okay.

If you want to go about on a very tourist-y package tour, that’s also okay.

If you choose to eat at McDonald’s and KFC during your break, that works just as well.

And if you don’t want to travel when young, or ever, that’s also fine.

Like many other things in life, travel is often overrated.

And like most things in life, it’s often not so much about the destination or the journey, but about the company we keep.

Paradise can be wherever you are. It’s a choice.

It definitely is.. where I am…here and now.. :-)

Merry Christmas

I am a Hindu by faith. I tend to be more spiritual than religious however. I think that tends to be a view held by most of us who whose education taught us to think, to probe and to question.

That said, I love religious festivals. I am a sucker for all kinds of celebrations. You just have to give me an excuse and I’ll probably be out on the street celebrating. I love the concept of celebrations – be it religious ones like Diwali, Id or Christmas or simply the many ‘day’s’ we celebrate during the year like Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Friendship Day etc.

These celebrations encourage us to take a break, pause and think of those who matter most. And Christmas takes the cake when it comes to timing. The Christmas New Year break is what makes December incredibly magical for most us. For those of us who are fortunate to live near family or have the means to travel to our homes, it’s the time when we get together and celebrate!

And, perhaps, most importantly, it is that time when most of the world takes a break from work to celebrate. Isn’t that a magical thought?

This very moment, many families, friends and loved ones across time zones are getting together and enjoying a great meal, a great movie or simply a great moment.

At a time when there’s more societal, economical and social unrest than there’s been for many decades, that thought alone gives me a lot of hope… We could do with some love in this world..

Merry Christmas everyone! I hope you have a wonderful holiday week..

On Reflection and 10 Questions

This week’s book learning is from a combination of books on Richard Feynman and Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs.

Another year has flown. On 16th October this year, this blog completed 100 weeks of book learnings! Thank you for making it special..

As is tradition now, please find our very own 10 question reflection and review sheet on

I hope you will find 15 minutes in the next few days to reflect on these questions. Please also do send any feedback you might have to improve this sheet.

I wish you a wonderful holiday season and hope you memorable Christmas and New Year celebrations.

Here’s to 15 minutes of reflection amidst the joys of the holiday season, this week!

Life by Calculation

It’s fairly easy to live a limited life.

One of the simplest ways to do so is to live by calculation i.e. everything you do is measured by the amount of money that’s in the transaction. This simplifies life in many ways.

A holiday is measured by the cost of the holiday.

A job is measured by your pay packet.

Your phone is cost optimized.

Life is measured by the Ferrari index (i.e. what car do you have?).

And relationships are measured how much you get.

This way, life is reduced to the constant search of the next deal. You only travel on holiday if it is cheap. You never indulge spontaneity because it is expensive. You sign your next job offer because you have a great sign on bonus. And so on..

You’ll save cash. You’ll have optimized the best deals.

But, constantly searching for the next deal is tiring. It’s limited.

We’re probably better off focusing on experiences.

Because most great experiences, truly are, priceless. Ask a music fan what it felt like to attend a great concert or a football fan what it felt like to attend an amazing football game.

It’s very unlikely they made the trip because they found a ‘great deal’.

I’m always reminded of the famous string of Mastercard ads that used to air on TV when I was a child.  (I couldn’t find the one I wanted which involved a family working to get a family portrait together. So, here’s a substitute.)

They did nail it. There are indeed some things money can’t buy.

Luckily, we can always choose to live by experiences.

Spoilt by choice, we are.

Now, to enjoy Christmas Eve!