Aage ya peeche?

(“Aage ya peeche” in Hindi stands for “Front or back?”)

I was at a Saturday league football (read soccer) game a couple of hours ago. This was only my second game with the team and I was taking corners. I put 3 hopeful corners in but we didn’t have much luck – no goals. The team weren’t really sure where the ball would land and I wasn’t really sure where they’d be standing as well.

As I walked out for the 4th, a teammate screamed – “Rohan. Aage ya peeche?”

“Aage” (front i.e. closer to the goalkeeper) – I screamed back.

Now I knew where to put the ball in. I did. He was there on cue and scored.

Of course, the scoring won’t happen every time but boy, did we help our chances with a simple bit of communication! Seasoned teams know and understand where their teammates put corners in and don’t need this sort of communication. But, for us, it was just perfect. So simple, so obvious, and yet.. it took us a while to do it.

I’ve taken back a big lesson here – communication is the life blood of a team. So, over communicate if you must and ask the simple question. We don’t need “out-of-the-box” thinking or piercing insights to move mountains. Simple questions that move the needle and help us understand each other is what moves mountains in the long run.

My vote for the best social network out there..

What makes a service a social network? My assumptions are –

1. Ability to connect with others
2. Ability to share photos, videos, and life events
3. Ability to communicate in real-time
4. Ability to organize offline events for more connection
5. Ability to funnel content/speak to sub groups of the overall network

While Facebook excels at 1-4 and does an okay job of 5, Facebook became a victim of it’s own success – it became too big. Path bettered the idea with a smaller and more private social network that does some of this well. LinkedIn occupies the niche of a professional social network so we won’t bring it in for the purposes of this discussion.

Over the past year, however, I’ve observed one social network climb to the top within my social group – Whatsapp. What started out as a way to send free text messages between iOS, Android, and BlackBerry platforms is now much much more than that. Whatsapp allows me to connect with folks in my phone book (i.e. my network), share photos, videos, and events in real time, and communicate better than any other. It then takes organizing offline events and sub-group communication to a whole new level.

Most folks in my social group wouldn’t even think twice to create a Whatsapp group to plan for the next weekend. In fact, they probably don’t need to do that because they’ve probably got on going groups for their football, get togethers, friends, and family. It’s a continuous stream of communication.

As far as my social group goes, Whatsapp is the undisputed leader of the social network group. It has it’s work cut out to stay that way but I thought I’d congratulate the team for iterating continuously to bring forth a fantastic and much loved product. Facebook team, I hope you’re watching..

Be average

Patricia Ryan Madson, author of Improv Wisdom, says principle #5 of Improv is “Be average.” She says it’s important to be prepared to be average because you might never get around to doing anything if you’re waiting for the day you’ll roll out a perfect performance.

Improv requires you to be prepared to fail simply because we don’t perform our best when we put ourselves under tremendous pressure.

So, if you’re walking into an interview/client meeting/presentation today telling yourself “this is my only shot and better work,” stop. You’re putting the sort of pressure on yourself that will cripple your performance. Calm down. We get many shots at the things we really need and if this doesn’t work, it’ll work out just fine.

Be prepared to be average at first. That’s how we get better. For all his emphasis on perfection, even Steve Jobs oversaw many products at Apple that were, at best, average. That’s just life. We just need to learn to be our best and enjoy the dance.. no matter the result.

All is hardly ever well

Look at all your key fulfilment factors – career, finance, health and fitness, relationships, mental and learning, and life and happiness – and you will find that all is hardly ever well. On average, you will always have 1 that is going bad, one that needs attention and the rest will be relatively smooth sailing.

Life is a careful balancing act and we learn over time that neglecting other factors to get one right is damaging in the long run. So many of us neglect our health and relationships in pursuit of success in our careers and this regularly comes back to haunt us. What’s the point of success if we are diagnosed with high blood pressure in our 30’s or have no one to celebrate our “Employee of the year” award with?

Even if you put in the right amount of effort to tend to each of these, all will hardly ever be well. Life will throw up a challenge to keep us interested. No point getting down. No point being unhappy. No point worrying. And absolutely no point not having fun. The challenges never stop. So, if you find yourself smiling a lot less than someone you know very well or worrying too much to have fun, then it’s worth stopping what you’re doing and taking stock. Everyone around you has similar sorts of challenges.. some just choose to rise above them and make the best of life.

It doesn’t matter what the situation is in your life right now – you have the power to make it better, to smile, to be happy, and to spread your happiness. Equally, you have the power to do the opposite and spread unhappiness. That’s a lot of power. Use it well.

Jiro’s work friends

I watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi once again over the past 2 weekends. I think I should make it a point to watch this great movie every couple of months as it brings forth a new insight every time. What stood out to me was the nature of Jiro’s suppliers.

Jiro’s tuna supplier was anti-establishment in that he only bought the best tuna of the lot that came in the morning. No more, no less. It might only mean one fish a day (or sometimes none) but he wouldn’t buy any more and compromise his quality. His eel supplier comes from a family where his grandfather was called “the good of the eel.” His shrimp supplier also bought very few shrimps a day and as he sorted them out in the morning, he made it a point to pick out the ones that were “worthy of Jiro.”

His rice supplier was at a whole new level – he refused to sell his rice to the Grand Hyatt in Tokyo because he believed they wouldn’t know how to cook it. Only Jiro did it well and he might consent to selling to the big hotel chain if Jiro asked him to.

All of them undoubtedly contribute to Jiro’s greatness. It is thus unsurprising that the common theme among all of them is excellence.

We are who we surround ourselves with.

Who cares? It’s such a small decision anyway

“So what if I woke up 5 minutes later today?”
”So what if I told my friends I would be there today and didn’t make it?”
”So what if I told my colleagues I’d show up on time for our breakfast meeting?”

So what? Aren’t these small decisions anyway? When I have to make a promise to Bill Gates or the Pope, I’ll stick to it. Why wouldn’t I? I wouldn’t muck up on a big decision.

We like drawing a line between small and big decisions so we can draw a line between the consequences of choosing the easy way versus the right way. Waking up 5 minutes late may have a knock on effect on everything you do while your friends and colleagues may just lose silently faith in your word.. but we tell ourselves that they don’t matter.

They do. There are 2 truths we must internalize to get this right.

First, there are no small and big decisions. There are just decisions and we always have a choice between what’s right and what’s easy. The right path will require us to plan, prepare, and then adapt while the easy path will be..well..easy.

Second, a day is a collection of many “small” decisions; a week, a month, and a year, are just a collection of days and thus, a life time is just a collection of years (if you are lucky).

That small decision you’re about to make matters a lot more than you’d like to admit. In fact, it’s probably the only thing that does.

Massimo Banzi on Arduino, Open Source, and technology


Arduino and Massimo Banzi are at the forefront of the revolution around customizable open source electronics. EB had a great time interviewing Massimo.

EB: I got introduced to Arduino through a colleague of mine a few months back. I managed to get my hands on the board 3 weeks back and I have been loving it. It was easy for me to start with it even without any knowledge in electronics. The Arduino is an open source project, and after reading a bit about open source hardware, I wanted to talk to the person behind the Arduino. Massimo’s views on open source and programming really resonated with me. I hope you enjoy the interview just like I did.

If you are looking to learn Arduino, visit www.arduino.cc. If you are looking to build some Arduino project together, feel free to reach out to me.


My favorite snippets –

“Everything we touch contains electronics.  Even the food processor you buy at the supermarket contains a piece of electronic that drives it.  We want people to be able to use this complex technology, and we want common people to access this technology, even kids.  If you can use this kind of technology, then you can really re-design the world around you. I think the big idea is to make the technology simple so that more and more people can participate in the creation of today’s world.”

”I also think another big idea behind Arduino is that it’s open source, so the design of the board and the software are all freely available.  Some people who can modify can build up on our work; they can create businesses that feed from Arduino.  I think that’s also important as a way to spread the idea more than just the technology itself.”

“If we lose that open source nature, we become a regular company which loses that spirit of cooperation, freedom, and helping each other – all that we like.”

“Now were having a chat in English, but English is not my first language.  Now I think programming is becoming the language that you need to be part of the 21st century.”

“I travel, I go see different places, I meet people, and during that time I get to hang out with people who use Arduino to do interesting things.”

“It’s important that we teach kids that technology is not only something that you buy,  plug in and play with, but that it’s something that you can build and modify.”

Full interview, as always, on RealLeaders.tv

On Hiring Products to Do a Job – Part II

This week’s book learning is from How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton Christensen. (Part 1)

Have you ever wondered why Ikea has never been copied? The company is very successful and any competitor can walk through its stores, reverse engineer its products, and copy its catalog. Yet, it’s never been done.

Clay Christensen’s belief is that while other furniture makers define businesses by product or customer segments (high end, low end, etc.), Ikea understands the answer to the question – what job does my customer hire me to do? They know customers hire them when they want to quickly re-furnish a house. So they..

– make furniture easy to carry, deliver home, and assemble
– have a kids area to take care of the kids, and
– even have a restaurant so you can focus on shopping without worrying about your next meal

Similarly, great marriages involve spouses who have an understanding of why they’re ‘hired’. We often like projecting what we think our spouse wants onto our spouse instead of taking time to understand his/her needs.

Why has Ikea’s phenomenal success not been copied?

When Clay and team asked the question about schooling i.e. “What job do children hire schools to do?,” they found that going to school is not a job that children are trying to get done. It is something that a child might hire to do the job but it isn’t the job itself. The two fundamental jobs that children need to do are to feel successful and to have friends every day.

The problem is that only a fraction of students feel successful through school.

A great question to bring forth some very interesting insights..

Judgments and Hypocrisy

My writing coach had an important tip for me – “Write like you want to convince someone.” Art and judgments go hand in hand, I learnt. You have to pick a side and speak with your biases. If you’re not willing to take a stand and describe what you believe, then you’re just being a hypocrite.

Shawn Coyne has a great post up on Steven Pressfield’s blog today called “Art and Polarity.” Below are the excerpts .

The other day I overhead this conversation:

Man #1: “I ran into Frank Smith (not his real name) at the beach yesterday…”

Man #2: “Isn’t that the guy who cheated on his wife, got a DWI, and said all of those nasty things about Jill’s daughter in law?”

Man #1: “…Well…yes…but I try not to judge.”

I run into this “I don’t judge” stuff a lot and it infuriates me on many levels. But as this is a blog about what it takes to create art, I’ll just address why this “moral position” is at best hypocritical and at worst a force as undermining and dark as Resistance.

Not saying something is uncaring. Not saying something means that you do not want to put your ass on the line and take the risk that you’ll be shunned for your opinion. It has everything to do with you. Nothing to do with the other person.

I’m aware that the world is not black and white. There are shades of gray between the two poles of every value. On the spectrum of “Truth and Deceit,” telling a white lie when your cousin asks if she looks good in her bathing suit is not the same as running a billion dollar Ponzi scheme. I get it.

And yes, most of the time, keeping our big mouths shut is the right thing to do. We’re all guilty of misdemeanors and don’t need Earnest Ernies pointing out our shortcomings. And when we do confront someone about their actions, we need to do it with tact and care. That’s empathy.

But this “non-judgment, I toe the middle line” attitude is dangerous. There is no middle line.  Not judging is a judgment.  And it pushes people away from each other—I best not make a mistake and judge anyone or no one will like me…best to keep quiet and be agreeable—instead of bringing them together—I thought I was the only one who thought Animal House was genius…

The man I overheard who doesn’t “judge” the adulterous, alcoholic driving, rumormonger sends a message to the world that destructive actions are excusable. It is what it is… There is no right and wrong. Nonsense.

But it is his passive aggressive dressing down of the other guy for “judging” someone guilty of antisocial behavior that is even worse. It masks his cowardice as virtue. And to not judge whether something is right or wrong is the furthest thing from a virtue.

You must choose a position in this world on innumerable moral questions and stand by your judgments. Woody Allen made this point in six lines of dialogue. Ken Kesey riffed on it for an entire novel. It’s important.

If you are an aspiring artist and you wish to avoid “judgments,” you’ll find that you have nothing to say.

As Seth Godin pointed out in his recent book, Steve Jobs was known to take strong views on one side one day and then flip to the other the next. The magic of Steve Jobs wasn’t that he was right.. it was that he was sure. He built products that resonated with his principles and refused to compromise – you can say what you want about Apple’s products but you have to admit that they aren’t a mish-mash of design principles.

There is a lot of gray in this world but there’s a fair bit of black and white too. If we’re running away from seeing the black and white using the gray as an excuse, then we’re only kidding ourselves.

HOW fascinating

When a player in Benjamin Zander’s orchestra makes a mistake (or on occasions Zander himself), Ben makes it a point to stop and say, with a beaming smile, “HOW fascinating!”

The best managers I’ve worked with are those who don’t rub it in when I make a mistake. If you care about the work you’re doing, then the very experience of making a mistake tends to hurt just enough.

Things get interesting when we then ask ourselves – how do we manage ourselves? Research reveals that we are all largely horrible managers. We are too hard on ourselves and shoot ourselves in the foot for our mistakes when it is completely unnecessary. Why else do most attempts at building willpower and creating great habits fall apart 6 days after the new year?

So, just for today, if you catch yourself or someone around make a mistake , erase the “oh sh*t” reaction, give a big smile and say.. “HOW fascinating!”

And hey, if it works, it might be worth continuing the practice tomorrow as well.