Cashless = Not Cool

Life is all about the little hacks. A hack here,, another there, and voila! You have just solved many a problem. For example,

Smaller plates = Lesser eating = Less weight

Routine = Less decision fatigue = Higher productivity

Food at regular intervals = Higher will power

Cycle or walk 30 minutes every day and never take elevators = Better health

The common thing about most of these hacks is that they are all painful in the short term. Perhaps, we ought to define the governing principle for hacks –

Short term GROAN = Long term HELL YEAH!

In this vein, a hack that I am beginning to appreciate a lot more is paying with cash. Yes, I know this is very old school and that cashless is “in”.

Cashless transactions are painless and therein lies the problem. Take out a 100 dollar bill to pay for that additional shoe and you really “feel” the pain. You question if it is really necessary. Besides, you will have to go withdraw more cash if you plan to continue shopping (more pain!). And pain in the short term is awesome.

Image by Cliff Weathers

So, I’ve been paying in cash a lot more these days. And, as far as managing my expenses goes, it definitely is a HELL YEAH!

“Switch off your devices before take off”

This is probably the week of travel rants. First, let me caveat this rant by reminding myself that the air travel industry is broken. There is so much wrong with it that it’s not even funny, and that highlights the biggest issue with capital intensive industries. They are difficult to disrupt.

Onto the topic of the day “Switch off your devices before take off.” An air hostess ages ago had said the reason for this instruction was so we paid full attention during take off and landing as that’s when the risk of an accident is highest. That made some sense to me then.

It doesn’t make sense to me anymore because –

1. Passengers are allowed to read a paperback book. But, they aren’t allowed to read on the iPad? Why? Shouldn’t the same rules apply? (If it is “we don’t trust you to switch off your 3G sim cards, that’s a really sad argument.)

2. Over the past few months, I’ve just trained myself to put on my eye shade and nod off during take off and landing. Luckily, I can nod off anyplace anytime. But, if the point of switching off my electronic devices is to keep me alert, then, surely sleeping beats the purpose altogether?

I would love to know if anybody has an answer to this.

The bigger reason for the frustration is the way you are generally told to switch off devices. I have typically seen the air hostesses and stewards walk around like school principals rebuking anyone stupid enough not to shut their electronic devices.

I felt the contrast the other day. I had been reading a passage for an extra couple of minutes before nodding off and the air hostess came in with a rude “you have to switch it off.” Funnily, a second later, a steward passed by, leant to me and said with a big smile – “You know that needs to be off, right?” 

I grinned back, switched it off and went off to sleep.

Yes, I do know. Thank you for being patient and nice. It makes it easier to ignore the fact that I have no clue why I’m being asked to do it.. (let’s not even get started on in flight announcements.)

It’s amazing how easy it is to distinguish yourself in terms of customer service. You just have to be nice! I guess the simple things are hard to do, consistently..

Work Hacks Wednesday: Don’t Negotiate Too Hard

There’s a school of thought that believes you only get what you negotiate. And there are many websites out there with tips and tricks for negotiating your pay raise, your transfer etc.

I do not disagree entirely with the principle. But, I think there’s a little more to it. I think it’s good to negotiate and ask for things. Least of all, you walk away with a lesson on how to do it or how not to do it. That said, I’m not a fan of playing hard ball to negotiate a raise, a transfer or a benefit.

If it doesn’t come to you after asking for it a couple of times, it’s not worth pushing for it. And if it comes at the cost of losing/scarring a relationship, it is definitely not worth it. Most things tend to come back a full circle. And if you don’t want to be at the receiving end of your own behaviour, don’t do it.

The best way to ensure you get the best is to give your best. So, don’t negotiate too hard. Be so good that they can’t ignore you. And make your intentions and your requests clear to those around you.

Unless you work for really bad employers, it’s unlikely you will be ignored. And if that is the case, it’s time to start looking for a different job anyway..

Prizing Efficiency Over Being Human

I was headed to the airport yesterday morning. The trains to the airport leave every 15 minutes. I managed to pay for my ticket with a minute to go and moved forward to get into the train.

I looked at the employee on the platform and she beckoned to the train on the opposite side. I was just about the enter when I heard the “Doors Closing” sound. I had ample time to walk right in. All of a sudden, the ticket person inside the train said “Wait!”. So, I waited a couple of seconds assuming they were testing something.

The doors closed . And in a patronising tone, the lady on the platform said – “You are late. The doors are closed and they don’t open once they are closed. Please catch the next train in 15 minutes.”

I was aghast. I had ample time to walk right in. I trusted the ticket person on the other side and was let down. Instead of hearing an apology and perhaps feeling a bit of empathy, I was admonished for having been stupid enough to trust that the person inside had my best interests at heart, and for having been 10 seconds later than I should have.

The incident sparked a fair bit of thinking.

I wondered what the service gained by those extra 10 seconds. Perhaps they would argue that adding 10 seconds would set a precedent and that 10 seconds would become 20 seconds and then gradually a delayed train. Fair enough. I can see the efficiency argument.

But, that’s about the only justification that I saw. And I thought it was weak (sure, you could accuse me of bias). I was left with multiple questions instead.

At what cost do you pursue efficiency? What if I had missed my flight? What would I have taken away? What if I was an influential person who might have hurt their reputation in some way?

But perhaps what hurt me most was that I am a big fan of the Heathrow Express service. I am on it at least 2-3 times a month on average. It is the best way to get to the airport. I have always counted myself as a cheerleader of the service. But instead, I felt like a nameless, faceless person they couldn’t give a damn about.

Image by Nick Macneill

Logic might dictate that they shouldn’t care. The value of the service is speedy trains to the airport. I am not going to stop using it because someone treated me bad. In fact, it will only prompt a small change in my behaviour – next time I will know not to count on their employees. Maybe they don’t lose anything after all and maybe they are justified worshipping efficiency and treating their customers as non-human entities..

Maybe. My gut says they are wrong. I walked away with more questions than answers. And more importantly, I walked away with the feeling that the spark in the relationship was lost. How can that be good for a business?

Celebrating a year of Real Leader Interviews

One year and 27 interviews old, Real Leader Interviews has been a significant part of the three of our lives. The inspiration behind Real Leaders was simple – stories of real people doing great things are a wonderful source of inspiration. While blogging a learning a day is primarily about ideas, these stories put all these ideas into a practical context. They make them real.As a result, I began with interviewing my Mom and very soon realized that this little initiative could be a lot more than just interviews of family and friends. It was a wonderful excuse to meet people who inspired me. And I can barely explain my delight when I was on a Skype call interviewing Joanne, a person I had only known through commenting on her blog.

I was fortunate to then have Dhanya and EB join me in January. And, we have been on this journey together since January this year. We are very proud of what we have created so far. While it has been very difficult at times, we have learnt and re-learnt the power of discipline and the magic of routines. Catching up every weekend and meeting our fortnightly Monday deadline despite the commitments in our separate lives has been challenging, frustrating and great fun, all at once. Most importantly though, the joy of speaking to incredibly inspiring people is one that gives us the energy we need to keep building this initiative.

As a tribute to the year that has gone by and as a milestone for the journey ahead, we have compiled a video of the best of moments from our interviews. Our sincere thanks to all these wonderful leaders who took time off to interview with us. We hope to do our bit to pay it forward.

We don’t rake in tens of thousands of views or clicks with every interview yet. However we’ve been fortunate to hear from many of you over this year. A big thank you for supporting us and encouraging us! It means a lot.

And finally, the biggest thank you to the incredible team – Dhanya and EB. Your commitment, openness and willingness to take swings never ceases to inspire me..

Bijan Sabet
Partner at Spark Capital

It’s hard to under emphasis that the relationship with my kids and my wife is a defining moment. They mean more to me than anything else! They’ve had an endless impact on my life. And you know it’s a juggle to be involved in your family and at work. At the end of the day family means more to me than anything else!

Joanne Wilson
Entreprenuer and Angel Investor

First of all, we always hear that there aren’t enough women in corporate offices at the top level, not enough women CEOs, not enough women in technology, not enough on boards of directors etc. Let’s say I find 100 women entrepreneurs, now we have a 100 women CEOs. So you can change that. Second is that women have childern. They are the only ones who can! There is more of a partnership in the last couple of generations be it picking up groceries or changing diapers but at the end of the day
women speak in terms of we, men speak in terms of I. Women have this innate nurturing quality. If you can be a woman entrepreneur at any level, its empowering for your children, particularly for your daughters to see that you can figure out how to balance your life. And if you run the company, you run your own show! If you need to go home, go to a basketball game, take a 2 week vacation or be home with your kids, no one is telling you “You cant do that because you dont have 2 weeks vacation”.

Sourabh Sharma
CEO and Co-founder of MilaapI think risk and safety are over-rated. By that I mean putting your bets on one thing that will happen next is over rated. I think you need to enjoy the moment and live in it. Be it a small hobby project or be it a trip or be it starting a company as well. I don’t think you should sit and wait. I think you should take the plunge.And not think about what will happen if this or that does not work out. Life in the end is about experiences. Each experience makes your life richer and richer. That is so much more important than anything else!Brad Feld
Venture Capitalist at Foundry Group

Try to spend as much time as you can on things you are intensely passionate about! There’s no way you can spend 100% of your time on it. There’s always things to be done, the overhead of life or something else that needs your attention. Work as hard as you canand spend time on things you are incredibly passionate about! Your life is over before you know. If you want to be a leader or an entrepreneur spend a happy life. Be with the people that you want. Sickness, death and unhappiness are all part of life. So spend time on things that you care about!

Daniel Ha
CEO and Co-founder of Disqus

You are never too good for any opportunity. That was very helpful to get my foot in the door for various things. You really need a lot of advice for how to do things. People do put a lot of ideas around how valuable your time is and how you should do something. Never let that cloud your judgement for taking up opportunities! Anything that comes up that could lead you to something new, you should go for it.

Aaron Klein
CEO and Co-founder of Riskalyze

I feel it’s my job as a CEO to make sure that we are always headed in the right direction; that we are not stuck on the wrong trajectory. That’s one of the biggest learnings.Assessing the trajectory you are on in a startup is quite important because running a start up is a bit like taking a leap off a cliff. And they don’t allow parachutes!

Eric Weiner
Author of Geography of Bliss

You say youngsters and I am struck by how many young people from your age are so damn serious about everything! They feel like they are very behind in their lives. How can you be? You are 23! They have to take their tests go to graduate school and what not. If you look at great people like Einstein, they were terrible at school and would appear to be goofing off. My message, if you don’t take things so seriously. If you lose that sense of playfulness – what the Thais call ‘Sanuk’, you have lost everything. The moment work feels like work, you are not going to do anything great. When it feels like play. it doesn’t feel like a burden. So, Chill out and have some fun!

Frederic Mazzella
Founder of BlaBlaCarThat money is the by-product of a good product. Make a good product and money will follow. Our focus was on making the best product.Jane Jenkinson
Owner of Hill-Crest, Bed & Breakfast

In so many businesses, not just service industry, people don’t seem to get customer services right. Even you smiling when someone new walks into your place is a small gesture that goes a long way. It makes people welcome wherever you are.

Titima Suthiwan
Associate Professor for Thai Language and Literature

I think people should be sincere to themselves. When they do something they should really like it. It will be better if you know what you want to study, what you want to be or what you want to do for your living. Of course these are not constant wishes – they evolve as you grow up every day. But the earlier you find out what your passion is, the better!

Subhashini Balasubramanian

I would say that if you are really interested in what you do, you should never worry about what other people say. You should gain the strength to carry on. I know it is hard. If you are really passionate, you should be at it. Minimum of 10 minutes everyday is also good. That will give you the best results. And when you feel the reward in any small way it would make you happy!

C Sivakumar
CEO of Prabha Engineers

You might peak at the age of 35. But are you going to stop then? Or are you going to have another dream. Can you dream at the age of 60 or 70 for a new career? Think that you are going to live for 100 or 120 years. And feel the need for energy. Spend it on your health, on the right people. You need the right connect in your life. Everyday of your life, ask yourself ‘Have I helped three people today?’ If you are able to do this, I hear even from psychiatrists that you will be the most positive person in this world!

K Balasubramanian
Founder of DS Constructions

In my early days I used to fire people whenever they made mistakes. Anybody is bound to make mistakes. We have to be a little patient with them and teach them. We have to make them understand how difficult it is to keep a client. We have to make them understand that unless the company grows you cant grow. As a leader, ensuring this will be your role. Take people along with you and that will give you a rich support system.

Md Shariff Abdullah
Professional Athlete

Keep at what ever you are doing. Don’t ever give up. Never encourage negative thoughts or the people who talk so. If it’s your dream and your wish, you can make it happen. If it does not come now it will come in later. I don’t use the word difficulties; I think it is more like challenges!

Joe Hill
3D Pavement Artist

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!

Drue James
Guitar Teacher and MusicianI think you should never stop learning. Even a master is always a student. He is and should be continuously learning. I think there is always something to learn.
Here’s to many more years of interviews..
May the force be with us!
On behalf of the Real Leaders Team (Dhanya, EB and Yours Truly..)

On Anchoring Effects and Soup Sales

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

Visitors to the San Francisco Exploratorium were asked one of the following 2 questions –

Is the height of the tallest redwood more or less than 1200 feet?
Is the height of the tallest redwood more or less than 180 feet?

The average answer for group 1 was 844 feet and group 2 was 282 feet. (Real average is around 300 ft)

In numerical terms, the anchoring index or
% difference between the 2 average heights (844-282=562)/ Difference between the “anchors” (1200 feet – 180 feet) was 55%.

And around 50% deviation is the norm in almost all experiments! Let’s take a simple example –

A supermarket offered Campbell soup at 10% discount. For half the day, the sign said “Limit of 12 per person” and then “No limits per person.” Shoppers purchased 7 cans when the limits were enforced i.e. an amazing twice as many as they bought when the limit was removed!


Image by Navin Rajagopalan

Anchoring is a continuation of “priming“. It essentially confirms that we are hugely swayed by hints and signals – much more than we can even imagine. Next week, we will look at the effects of anchoring on price-setting and negotiations..

Here’s to looking out for anchoring effects in supermarkets this week!

Revisiting Post Himalaya Trek Commitments

I had made 2 commitments to myself post my Himalaya Trek and I was thinking about them today. The first was to stop complaining and the second one was to take more care of my health.

I don’t know about the first commitment. I guess the people around me must testify if there has been any improvement. Looking back myself, I don’t seem to have consciously worked on it. But, I do remember many instances in the past months when I have been thankful for the life and options I have.

The “stay in good health” is one that is pretty easily measurable. I generally have a simple question to test this – “Can I last a 90 minute football game?”. If it’s a yes, I am fit and if no, I need to get fitter.

I think I’ve made significant progress on this aspect over the past few months. I’ve made a few changes in my lifestyle –

1. Eating slightly less during dinner. While “slight” is the key word here (I have a huge appetite!), I have been careful and, in general, tried to eat until I am just less than full. I have read that that is good practice and hope to continue.

2. Stop taking the lift. I think I have managed to keep this up for the most part! And I find this very gratifying.

3. Stand more. The big step here was hacking together a standing desk. I am standing a LOT more than I used to now and this is incredibly gratifying as well.

I have had some interesting learnings here. First, I find myself more conscious about my posture when I’m standing. Second, I’ve learnt when to work standing and when to sit. My theory is that standing increases “tension” in our body as it’s most strenuous than sitting. As a result, standing is brilliant when I want to be “clinical”. I waste very little time standing and it’s ideal for tasks like clearing email, blogging in the morning when I have a fully formed idea in my head and in general, getting things done.

However, if I was to sit down and write a long letter, for example, or do something creative, standing is not idea. I can’t “ponder” or “muse” when standing. In short, I have found myself standing when I need to get things done and sitting when I need to be creative. Very interesting insight, I thought.

4. Walking more. Walking more has nicely morphed into biking more. This change in habit ranks very high among new habits I am very happy about. I used to do 20 odd minutes of exercise 2-3 times a week in the gym and that has now been replaced by biking. As a result, I am getting a cardio workout practically every day.

Besides, thanks to the ease of finding cycles via the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme, I am cutting a few journeys on the underground to just bike more. I’ve rediscovered biking for life. Love it!

On reflection, it’s really nice to see all these changes over the past few months. I need to think about how to embed the “no complaining” into my life. But, aside from that, the trek has inspired some really nice changes in my life. And given there are few better feelings than the feeling of being healthy, I am grateful for the experiment.

In short, not a perfect score, but definitely “better”. And as regulars here know, that’s how I like to roll..

Fun Friday: John Wooden’s advice on threats

A friend of mine sent this excerpt from legendary basketball coach John Wooden’s book, ‘On Leadership’. When John Wooden was coach for the UCLA basketball team, he never specified what his penalties were for any misconduct. He used this fictional story to explain why:

“A cowboy hitches his horse outside the local saloon, goes in, and orders a cold mug of beer. When he’s finished drinking it, he goes back outside, but his faithful horse is nowhere to be seen. The cowboy stomps back into the bar, slams his fists on the counter, and yells, “Somebody in here took my horse. Now, I’m going to order another cold mug of beer. When I’m through drinking it, I’m going to slowly walk back outside. I would strongly suggest whoever took my horse bring it back and hitch it to the hitching post. Otherwise, I’m gonna do what I did down in Texas – exactly the same thing as I did down in Texas.”

Image Source

The cowboy orders another mug of beer, drinks it, and walks outside. Sure enough, his horse is at the hitching post. As he prepares to ride away, the bartender comes running out asks, “Say, fella that was very impressive. But I’ve got to ask ya, “What did you do down in Texas when they took your horse?'” The cowboy looks down at the bartender and says, “I walked home.”

John Wooden said that individuals who knew exactly what the penalty was for a particular act could subconsciously measure the risk against the reward. That person may decide the risk was worth it. Those under Wooden’s leadership didn’t know the penalties they would face, like the cowboys in the story. They feared the unknown more than the known as they couldn’t determine if the risk was worth the reward of breaking the rules.

I found this story hilarious and I agree fully on the use of threats. They may work once or twice but over a long period, they generally don’t. I feel respect works better than fear.

What do you folks think? I’m especially interested to here from the parents who have the tough job of disciplining a kid.. :-)

The least we can do

is treat people below our rank or social status with respect. That’s just good character.

Great people take it up an extra notch. They have the ability to make people they meet feel special. That’s charisma.

Neither behaviour is THAT hard or complex.

But then again,

“Wisdom is pretty plain and unimpressive. Be nice. Floss regularly. Do your best. Don’t let the grass grow on the path to your friend’s house. Wisdom is always simple, but not easy.” | Caterina Fake

Work Hacks Wednesday: Be Known for Something

This work hack probably applies most to fresh starters. The concept is simple – be known for something.

What does ‘something’ constitute? It is purposely vague. It really can be anything. That said, a skill that pays dividends at work, directly or indirectly helps a LOT. Financial modelling is a direct work related skill, for example. Video editing is an indirect skill that could be useful in presentations that allow for creativity. Essentially, if anyone who knows you is contemplating building an important model or creating an important video, you should be the port of call. That’s a really good place to be.

How do you go about making a name for yourself? First, get insanely good at what you do. If you have set your sights on excel modelling, work to become the best modeller in the world. Be so good that they cannot ignore you.

If you are the creative type, then look for opportunities that allow you to showcase creativity e.g. internal presentations or studies, annual offsites etc.

As the years go by, we tend to specialize in one or many things and develop a reputation. This is much harder when you just get started, though. And hence, so much more valuable.

It helps being an expert in something i.e. being an inch wide and mile deep.