Tools of Power

Tools are sources of immense power. The personal computer gave many individuals the power to do what only big corporations could do, until then. The internet has levelled the playing field further and social media even more so.

Now, as an individual, you can have your own mega phone/soap box, you can use state-of-the-art tools to build something on your own and even disrupt an industry while you are at it.

Image by Ludwig

While it is justified that we work hard to further understand how to use tools like the computer, the iPad, the internet, social media etc, it can be argued that we forget to learn to harness the greatest tool of them all – our mind.

All the productivity tools in the world are futile if our mind isn’t firmly in our grasp. The wonderful creation that it is, it can both lead us to experience moments of genius and equally, drive us crazy.

Self control, will power and discipline – the real tools of power. That’s where genius truly lies..

Closing Days

Regulars here know that I have been running on a “gamification” system for about 2 and a half years now. This involves giving myself points for various activities that involve ‘producing’ or contributing to productivity in a day and then tallying a score at the end of the day.

In many ways, I put the system on hold for a couple of weeks as a test of how life would work without it during crisis mode. The simple answer – not very well. And I began thinking about why that was the case.

There was one obvious thing missing – I wasn’t exercising enough without the pressure and a change in geography meant I had thrown out my exercising routine but otherwise, overall productivity didn’t seem to suffer. 1 other thing did dip though – Happiness.

And, last Thursday, I finally stumbled on why that was the case. I realize what I missed most was the act of ‘closing the day’ i.e. tallying the score for the day, sending an email to my friend-coach to report the score for the day and thus shutting the day in my head. I was then ready for a quick bath (my trouble tree) and ready for what remained of the evening (i.e. end of day). This act of ‘closing the day’ compartmentalized the day in my head and I was ready to start the next day fresh and renewed. (Sometimes, the new day began a couple of hours after the old day closed but that almost never matters is what I have come to realize!)

I realized weekends had a similar effect. My ‘close the week’ task was sending my ‘Sunday Hello’ to framily. This email where I put together the biggest events of the week and often my biggest learnings from it signifies the end of the week in my head. When these systems are operational, I realize I live in day-tight, and then week-tight compartments where spills of worries and troubles are restricted by these boundaries.

Boundaries matter, a lot. A football game is no fun if there is no clear pitch. One would argue that the smaller the pitch, the more fun the game is thanks to the skill levels required to manoeuvre the ball around. Life isn’t any different.

Image by Nigel Mykura

2 and a half years into a system, I often forget why some things are done the way they are done. I just know they work well. But, a couple of weeks without these structures have taught me how and why they add immense value.

Big insight.

On the Miracle Question

This week’s book learning is from ‘Switch’ by Chip and Dan Heath.

One of the biggest shifts in the world of therapy was to focus on solutions rather than problems. Thus, solution focused therapy was born.

A key part of that switch was actually just one question from the counsellor.

“Can I ask you a strange question? Suppose you go to the bed tonight and sleep well and while you are sleeping, a miracle happens and all your troubles are solved. When you wake up in the morning, what’s the first small sign you’d like to see that would make you feel the problem is gone?”

For a couple undergoing counselling, the conversation progressed..

“I’d be happy to feel at ease. I’d be more pleasant to Bob, not jumping down his throat all the time.”

“What will you do instead?”

“Well, there would be more understanding and we would listen more to each other.”

“How can you tell?”

“Well, I guess we’d make eye contact and nod at the right places. Yes, we’d both respond to what the others were saying. ”

Image source

I thought it was a very cool insight. We all know big problems are solved by breaking them down into small, actionable chunks. But, thinking of solutions in terms of small signs feels both realistic and fun!

I can’t wait to test the miracle question on myself..

Here’s to solving our problems by asking ourselves the ‘miracle question’ this week!


One of the consequences of a daily learning blog of a personal nature like this one is that what you say on the blog generally corresponds a heck of a lot with what you are going through in life. I’ve said this many times but I find myself reminded of this from time to time.

If you are in difficult times, you allude to it many a time with your posts. It’s just the nature of the game and it’s part of being yourself, being authentic. I always do my best to stay away from the specifics of discussing highs and lows but if you are a regular, you will likely make out rather easily as to whether the general trajectory is upwards or downwards.

I was thinking about faith the other day in the context of a tough period. I am not a religious person but I am fairly spiritual. I believe in a force and in a concept called God. It’s just my faith. Being a Hindu by religion, I don’t like going to temples – especially the big, popular ones often frequented by those who go there out of habit, or to find purpose. I guess I am a bit of a rebel by nature and I like to delude myself about the ‘purity’ of my beliefs/way of doing things.

One of the lines in my personal mission statement is to ‘Seek and Merit Divine Help.’ I don’t know if there does exists a concept called divine help. Again, it’s a belief, an act of faith and it’s something I’ve become conscious of in the last 3 years. I remember I had turned agnostic for a big part of the first 3 years of university. I felt faith didn’t serve a purpose.. until I hit one of the most longest profound ‘low’ periods I’ve every experienced and found myself naturally clutching at faith to feel calmer, better and probably most importantly, give me hope.

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Ever since, I’ve always done my best to set a few minutes aside every weekend for a ‘thank you’ prayer so I don’t just think of divine help when I am in trouble. That said, even when I’m in trouble, I’ve never really asked for help. My mom always taught me to say thank you for all I had. I still do that.

These days, more than ever, I do my best to remind myself that tough times exist to give us a sense of meaning and difficulty in our lives. We couldn’t be heroes of our own life if we didn’t have obstacles we had to overcome. Thank god for them. Can you imagine a narrative to your grandchildren without these challenges and obstacles? Joy wouldn’t be good if it wasn’t for pain.

And at the end of the day, especially post my trek to the Himalayas, I am doing my best to remind myself often enough that life.. is indeed very good.

Thank god for that.

Fun Friday: Sherlock Holmes

Thanks to iBooks, I’ve been doing a lot of ‘light reading’ and I’m loving it. The subject of the light reading has been Sherlock Holmes.

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I had read Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie’s detective and used to like them lots. Sherlock, arguably, takes it up a notch. I love his casual swagger and focus on the absolute basics. I must admit that the fact that my guesses of the criminal and nature of the crime have been right 70-80% of the time and that has definitely increased my enjoyment. As a friend rightly point out, in Holmes’ case, you get to see most clues that help him solve the problem. (That was not the case with Poirot)

The other fact that adds to the fun is a knowledge of London. I can mentally picture most locations mentioned in the book, their journeys and the like. It’s amazing to think that they talk of taking the same underground 130 odd years ago as I’ve taken many a time in the past 1 and a half years.

So, for today, I thought I’d share a short exchange I bookmarked from the ‘The Adventure of The Noble Bachelor’. Lord St Simon, a haughty British noble meets Holmes and tries to point out that Holmes should count himself fortunate to have someone of his ‘class’.

“A most painful matter to me, as you can most readily imagine, Mr. Holmes. I have been cut to the quick. I understand that you have already managed several delicate cases of this sort sir, though I presume that they were hardly from the same class of society.”

     “No, I am descending.”

     “I beg pardon.”

     “My last client of the sort was a king.”

     “Oh, really! I had no idea. And which king?”

     “The King of Scandinavia.”

     “What! Had he lost his wife?”

     “You can understand,” said Holmes suavely, “that I extend to the affairs of my other clients the same secrecy which I promise to you in yours.”

I felt like I had to clap when I read this!

Are you a Holmes or Poirot fan? Are there any fictional characters you love? Look forward to hearing about it in the comments.

The Faith in Rock Bottom

I’ve discussed life as an ECG a few times here. The specialty of an ECG is that every up and down are of a different depth/height. And while some of the ups are incredibly high, some of the downs are incredibly low as well.

The beauty of being human is that we have the power to play ‘Observer’ i.e. we can step out of our current selves and view the situation we are in perspective. Late Stephen Covey called that the ‘space’ in which we had the ability choose a response. You could call that ‘our consciousness’ but all fancy names aside, it gives us a unique ability, if channelled.

I was playing ‘the observer’ two days ago and realized I was hitting one of the lowest points of an curve in a long time. And a few hours later, voila! I felt like I had hit the lowest point.

This was a very liberating experience as I have a tremendous faith in hitting rock bottom because the only way you can go is… up!

I may yet be proved wrong but that feeling of a surge of enthusiasm is a good one. Maybe life is really moving from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm?

‘Even this will pass away.’

Work Hacks Wednesdays: Professionalism

I’ve paused the series on Structuring for a week on ‘Work Hacks Wednesdays’ choosing a topic that came to mind yesterday, Professionalism.

I’ve often thought about this question – what is professionalism?

I wasn’t sure, in the early days, if professionalism meant being the dedicated work soldier and never ever bringing or expressing personal issues. These days, I feel differently.

As a friend said, work problems are much easier to deal with than personal problems. We get by deadlines, key meetings, presentations okay. Yes, not all of them work out but we still get by okay. The tougher problems to deal with are always personal one – someone fell sick, something on the personal admin front went wrong. So, do we take these problems to work or pretend all is well in our world?

My take on professionalism is that while we all have our own authentic styles of conducting ourselves at work, deal with problems etc, professionalism is continually prioritizing long term effectiveness above all else and this is done in a way that your immediate team know that, personal issues or not, they can always count on you to do the right thing for your current project or commitment.

As I type this, I realize that my definition of Professionalism seems to come close to that of integrity i.e. making and keeping commitments. Perhaps, that’s what professionalism is? To keep up our integrity in the heat of fire?

High Quality Sleep

Lifehacker, over the years, has been a very good source of articles on sleep. And I’m a regular follower on this topic as I find sleep to be the single biggest contributor to my energy. There is a noticeable difference between days I’m sleep deprived and days I’m not.

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I was once theorizing about sleep with a light sleeper and my thesis around having great sleep was going to bed feeling mentally tired. Physical tiredness is ideal as well but it’s still optional. Mental tiredness is critical. There was no science behind this assertion though.

So, I must admit I was happy to note a line in their latest article on sleep and productivity that said ‘for the highest quality of sleep, you need to be drained, both physically and mentally.’

I cannot agree more. A caveat here – we all have different mental capacities and as a result, it’s vital that you do what it takes to stretch your minds. The reason I say this is because I notice the difficulty some incredibly smart people have – they need a lot more mental activity to feel ‘drained’ and hence, they take ages to fall off to sleep. I, on the other hand, have no such problem. :-) Leave it to you to draw your own conclusions..

Joe Hill, 3D Pavement Artist – Real Leader Interview 24

Elayabharath: Joe Hill is known for his amazing 3D pavement art! For the past seven years, Joe along with his friend late Max Lowry has travelled the world from New York to Shanghai creating his unique 3D street art. They design their anamorphic paintings to encourage audience interaction.
Joe was invited to Singapore by the famous art gallery ‘28th Fevrier’ to paint a 3D picture at our office lobby at the Solaris building. When I approached him (actually interrupting him painting) for the interview, he greeted me with a big smile and instantly agreed to it! He was very warm to all the people who were walking across the lobby, talking to him though it distracted him from his painting. Personally, I would be very annoyed when someone distracts me during my painting time. So here goes the first lesson to being a great artist – share your painting time with a big smile.


Please do visit their website for a lot more exciting works!

Here is the masterpiece that Joe had created in the office lobby:
Side view:


EB: Thank you Joe for this interview. Let’s get started by getting to know you! Where did you grow up and how did you get into Art?
Joe: I was born in England and I travelled around lots when I was young – my father was in the air force. I studied art at school but then when I was 19 I stopped painting all together and went on to get a degree in a drama school. I was a stage actor in London during my 20s. While I was doing that I started to enjoy writing and I started to write screen plays and put the art piece to one side. Screen plays take a long time and are very difficult to make money. So I started doing these chalk drawings to make some money on the side.
I was approached to do a series of pictures in Spain by a company. I immediately called Max from school – he is a very good artist. We both didn’t know how to do a 3D art – so we taught ourselves how to do it and went on this tour in Spain. We started small and our paintings got progressively bigger.
We started by using chalk to create our images, and soon we realized people like taking their pictures with the art work. They wanted to get on the art work which requires the art work to be quite interactive. We could use paint for the images, but it is very difficult to get permission to paint on the sidewalls and pavements. The solution – using a canvas!
It completely opened up a whole new world because we were able to create the artwork that is completely interactive that allowed people to jump on them, play with them, come up with different poses and also to reuse them. As I said it is difficult to get permission for paints! In the very early days it meant that we would roll out the pictures without getting permission and just roll them up very quickly whenever we had to pack. Now we of course we get things done in the right ways!
And to really answer your question, I didn’t really start painting until I was 30!
EB: What inspires you? What makes you get up from bed every day and do what you do?
Joe: It sounds like a cliché but a new challenge always is that the last picture has to be better than the one before. The latest picture has to be the best one!  And I have to come up with something new as well because it is very easy to just do the same work over and over again. Although it is quite nice to carry on with used themes and techniques, it is always good to take a new spin at things. If I know I am working on a project that I know is different, I wake up and spring up from my bed because its new and exciting.
EB: What were some of the defining moments in your life? Times that stood out..
Joe: Well there are positives and negatives. I got married recently, to an amazing woman who is a very talented actress! It is very good to be with someone who is very creative.
Then when the Max, my art partner died 2 years ago. That obviously turned my world upside down. Suddenly I was working on my own. However, what was amazing was that a lot of max friends who were very good artists stepped in and helped to get through my first year assisting me.
I would think I have loads of defining moments. I have really supportive parents and an amazing sister who encourages me. They weren’t the people that asked me to get a proper job, or give up and do an office job because you should earn some money. They have encouraged me and have been really influential. It’s just a constant number of moments every time that keep me going!
EB: What is your take on talent? Is there such a thing called ‘artistic talent’, do you believe in it? 
Joe: I think its practice. I don’t know – I could probably practice piano for 20 years and still not be able to play. I don’t know. But I do know that I have only improved through just hours and hours of practice.
I think it’s a combination of both. It’s a horrible word talent, isn’t it? It makes it sound little bit smug. I think it’s a lot of practice and hard work!
EB: What is the biggest learning that you have gained in all these years?
Joe: What I have realized is that one should take opportunity as it comes – rather than pausing when somebody says ‘Can you do this?’, then making a list of things that could go wrong and refusing the offer. I have learnt that the best thing to do is to say Yes – I can do this, and then work out the details, because that’s how it all started. Somebody said “Can you do a 3D picture in Spain?” I didn’t know how to do it, but I said ‘Yes’. That move helped me learn how to do it because I believed that it was possible.
And the same thing happened when we broke the world record for the largest ever piece of street art. They said ‘Do you want to do this?’ I said ‘Yeah, absolutely’. Is it possible? Yes! They said it was in November at England, and that means it would be raining out on the streets. ‘Yes, no problem at all!’ is what we said. And as it turned out, it was really difficult. For 4 days the paint washed away and we had to start again and again. But we got there in the end, we found solutions!
So biggest learning with the street art which I have carried on for the rest of my life is that apart from things like ‘I can’t physically jump to the moon’, most other things are possible if you really go for it!
EB: What would be your advice to the people who are just starting out or to the ones who want to pursue art in their lives?
Joe: I would say don’t let the negativity in. There are a lot of people who will tell you that you can’t do things, who would ask you to do that or who would ask you to focus on what is important. What is important to them is probably not necessarily important to you. So you just have to do what you think is right! Don’t let anyone try and put it down on earth. And believe in yourself I guess!
EB: Thank you for the wonderful interview Joe. And thanks for spreading happiness and making our lives more interesting!
Joe: I have got the luckiest job in the world – I get to make people smile!
Thanks for a lovely interview, Joe – we loved it! We salute your gusty approach towards your career!
I am sure you guys have noticed how Real Leader Interviews have transitioned from Tech VCs and entrepreneurs to artists/teachers. Before you think I have jumped 10 feet into art, I need to tell you that EB and Dhanya have taken over the interviews these days! Both of them being passionate about art, have interviewed (and are continuing to) people who inspire them in that respect! Hope you are enjoying the variety :) We surely are!
The Real Leader Team,
Dhanya, EB and yours truly..

On The Invisible Gorilla

This week’s book learning is from ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ by Daniel Kahneman.

The “Invisible Gorilla Test”, popularized by psychologists Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris, involves a test that consists of a team of 3 people dressed in black and a team of 3 people dressed in white passing a basketball to their teammates.

The test is less than 1 minute and 30 seconds and contains a very powerful lesson. If you have never taken the test, it comes highly recommended.

I promptly missed the gorilla when doing the test! And research shows that about half the people who focus on counting the passes miss the gorilla.

The ‘Invisible Gorilla’ isn’t a theoretical phenomenon. It is something real that happens to us every day – in an age of ‘busy-ness’, ‘doing more with less’ and ‘multi tasking’, our limited attention spans mean we are susceptible to missing the ‘gorilla’ in the room!

How much attention do we give what’s taking our attention?

Here’s to monitoring our attention bandwidth to catch all the gorillas this week!