Are you steering?

Are you steering?

Your boat is making it’s way along the ocean. The ocean has a will of it’s own. You don’t control it’s currents. You don’t have a say on the direction of the winds. You do, however, have a say on the direction your tiny, leaky boat takes. Once you get on the steering wheel, you can work your boat towards a direction of your choice.

Alternatively, you can let the boat be. The currents and winds have a will of their own and the boat will likely get somewhere. You will be passenger and observer and probably prone to sea-sickness. While you are at it, you will probably also complain about the currents and winds. Why can’t the gods be better to you?

Steering is painful business since you will find the currents and winds oppose you right from the start. They’ll test your resolve to get to wherever you want to get. You’ll soon realize it doesn’t really matter where you want to get – you will always face the resistance. There is no right path. There is only your path. You’ll seen millions of other boats around you who join you for part of your journey. You might even trade lessons and pick up a companion or two for a while. But, for the most part, it’s your journey.. and it is what you make of it. Over to the big question then..

Are you steering?

Caveat confabulation

Confabulation is when you try to make up logical reasons for emotionally driven actions. When you eat that cheesy snack on the 6th day of your diet regime after some initial resistance and find your logical brain telling you it is a reward for a job well done so far, you are confabulating.

Confabulation popped up in 2 conversations yesterday. The in-person one was interesting. I was describing my hopes/goals/dreams and trying hard to make it sound like the logical thing to do. A minute into my explanation, I caught myself and said I could try to make this very logical but the real driver is that the roots of this are completely emotional. He understood. We laughed.

Most of the action and decisions we take happen because of a strong surge in emotion and it helps to recognize it. Acceptance comes with recognition and further action comes after acceptance.

Exercise for the weekend – Try and catch yourself confabulating at least once and say it aloud immediately.

Self awareness takes practice.

The first step to a happy life..

..is asking yourself what it will take for you to be a happy life.

There is no template. There is a theory and a suggested path like always. Every footballer knows it’s best to have phenomenal ball control and the ability to kick with both feet. Good in theory but there’s been many a successful footballer who made it without these attributes. If Jim Furyk had followed the theory, he would never have become the golfer he is today.

Understanding the theory and suggested path is helpful. Ask why before you ask why not after all. Just remember not to diss the “why” because you don’t agree with all of it. And, don’t forget the “why not” bit because that’s when you develop your own style..

Timing

2000 years ago, timing was everything. If the weather wasn’t favourable, travellers didn’t set out on a new journey and housewives worried about whether their clothes would ever dry as there weren’t any fans to dry them indoor either.

Thanks to technological advances, we don’t have to worry about timing anymore. Everything is around and available 24*7. It is no wonder that we hardly feel the need to believe in the supernatural. Most things feel within our control. If we relied on the weather, however, we’d probably believe in omens just like our ancestors did.

It is tempting to negate the effect of timing. However, timing still matters.. a lot. It sounds fatalistic to say this but some things don’t really happen until they’re meant to happen and some things happen a lot quicker than we meant them to happen. It’s akin to sailing. You don’t control the vast open sea and it helps watching it carefully. There are times when it’s easy to make progress and then again, there are times when it’s incredibly hard. If you want to be a sailor, you have to learn to live with that reality and potentially, use it to your advantage.

Keeping a close watch out for timing helps with your personal habits too. Ideally, you do your most productive work when you feel most productive and leave the admin for times when you have less willpower. And if we feel depleted, we ought to eat and sleep. Regular rhythms help our body to stay productive.

Timing is everywhere. If we keep our eyes open, we learn how to use it to our advantage. Else we are in danger of just putting in useless effort and wondering why things don’t seem to work as well.

PS: This was an astonishingly difficult idea to communicate. I’m still not sure I’ve done justice.

Making memory videos

I learnt a bit of video making thanks to a video initiative I worked on in university. While out attempts at making a talk show still crack me up, I learnt how to edit videos – a skill that has served me well since.

One of the applications of video editing that I’ve used from time to time is to make memory videos. This is a simple idea and I’ve found it to be a great way to remember great occasions – in my case, two of the memory videos that stand out are one dedicated to friends after 4 years of university and another just completed remembering our wedding from the planning to our trip after.

The process has 5 steps –

1. Copy all your best photos and videos from a trip/occasion in a folder.

2. Think of a storyboard or flow of these photos and videos. I typically do them chronologically and name the files accordingly – e.g. 1.jpg, 2.jpg, 3.jpg etc. This makes it easier to edit later. When I start out, I leave gaps and name them 1, 3, 5 in case I want to change the story or squeeze another pic or video in.

3. Add them into a video editing tool of your choice. Windows Live Movie Maker is available as a free download. I use the paid version of Camtasia Studio.

4. Edit all videos, length of images displayed. Then add transitions (fade is my favorite) and finally, add music to suit the mood. This is very important. Ideally, you’d have a ‘song of the trip’ which makes your life simple. If you aren’t good at selecting music, ask a friend who is.

5. Produce, upload, and share!

PS: Remember to get creative with captions to describe what’s going on/remind people what went on. If you’ve got a sense of humor, it helps.

The process is typically fraught with issues – e.g. your video formats are not aligned to Windows Movie Maker(use Any Video Converter). In my case, our memory video turned out to be too big for Camtasia to process so I ended up splitting it into parts of 20 minutes each. Eventually, the 40 minute video took about 40 hours of my time (!) in the past 6 weeks but made for an unforgettable memory. It’s also a lovely way of thanking everyone who made it special.

I carry these memory videos on all my devices and occasionally take a sneak peak – happiness!

Were you there when I needed you?

That’s the question a customer subconsciously asks about the customer service of a product or service they use. Ideally, the product would demand no customer service (e.g. Google) but in most cases, you do need help. Whether it’s via an FAQ, a forum, or via an email, live chat or phone helpline, they’d like to have it resolved immediately.

Outstanding customer service aims to answer that question with a resounding YES. They do 3 things very well –

1. They are available as and when their customers need them
2. When they are contacted, they respond enthusiastically to ease their customer’s pain
3. They make sure the feedback reaches their product teams so improvements can be made where possible

It’s the same question our co-workers, friends, and family ask us. Our co-workers want us to be accountable of any output we produce. And, if they needed us, they’d like us to be available, enthusiastic, and have an eye to train them to solve future issues themselves.

Are you around when your customers, co-workers, friends, and family need you?

On Babylonia, Pangali, Fibonacci, and paper money

This week’s learning is part 1 of an extensive 12 part series on The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson. Even though money and finance play a huge role in our lives, I didn’t really know much about financial history or understand the key building blocks of the global financial system. This is my attempt at synthesizing Niall Ferguson’s excellent book. I hope you find it as useful and as fascinating as I did.

We begin with the most obvious financial instrument – cash. Records of paper money first existed in Babylonia and the concept of interest is believed to have stemmed from the natural gain in livestock (a farmer’s cows gave birth..) over a period of time.

Europe, however, was still very backward in this regard thanks to its use of Roman numerals. This was until a young Italian mathematician named Fibonacci published a book after studying more advanced Arabic and Indian systems including decimals, exchange rates. While the Fibonacci sequence was the work of Pangali, an Indian mathematician, his work spread rapidly from Pisa and was adopted extensively in Venice, the trading hub.

Jews in Venice and around the continent began taking active part in the business of money lending because the bible forbade Christians from doing so. The Old Testament, however, had an ‘out clause’ which allowed Jews to lend money to non-Jews. Hence, the famous story of “The Merchant of Venice” with Shylock the Jew asking for the famous pound of flesh.

clip_image001

Sketch by EB

Before we proceed, it is also important to understand 3 underlying conclusions from ‘The Ascent of Money’ –

1. Poverty is not a consequence of financiers stealing money from the poor but more the absence of a proper financial system for the needy to seek support from. Loan sharks in poor neighborhoods often charge interest rates of 11 million per cent per year. Financial systems are key to removing poverty..

2. Finance tends to amplify human behavior and our tendency to over react. The world is far from flat in terms of income distribution and there is a big reward to those who are financially literate.

3. There is nothing as hard to predict as boom and bust in finance. Finance has an evolutionary aspect to it – financial products keep coming into existence and only the fittest survive.

Wish you a happy weekend and happy week!

Intent

We had a great question in the comments of the post on Benjamin Zander’s reaction to failure “How Fascinating.”

The commenter felt the bullish optimism could easily come off as sarcastic.

image

I agree. It can.

That said, if the intent is right, it rarely goes wrong. We have powerful sensory systems that detect intent very quickly. It’s these systems that alert us when we feel someone is not being genuine or when someone is bull shitting us. Only the greatest con men manage to complete deceive us and these days, it’s hard to be a con man for long because your reputation can be broken with one tweet that goes viral.

If your intent is aligned with what you think, feel, say and do.. it shows.

Fierce resistance is natural

Every time I face change, my first reaction is fierce internal resistance – “I wish things could be the same. I don’t want to things to change.”

But, the best things that have happened to me have happened after I’ve switched sides in the fierce internal battle. Resistance, like the instinct to procrastinate, is just one of those things that exists to be overcome. Expect it, destroy it, and be done with it. It’s the right thing to do. Make it habitual.

Change is going to happen anyway. You are better off if you embrace it.

Standing and outdoors

In a wonderful 3 minute video, ASAP Science illustrates he importance of going outdoor from time to time. It isn’t ground breaking or revolutionary. Simple things are always simple. We all know the importance of exercise – doing it is a different matter.

The second covers a topic close to my heart – sitting. We spend too much time sitting and it’s harmful for our health. I spent many hours one weekend hacking together a standing desk at home in London 1 year or so back. Now that I’ve moved back to Singapore, I’ve realized how much I miss it. I tried checking in at the Ikea here for it and it was an exasperating experience. No one understood what a standing desk was and they were extremely unhelpful with hacking anything together. It was late in the night, I was low on willpower, and I just got myself a normal sitting desk.

A standing desk is unquestionably good for us. Why, then, is it so hard to find? And how can we fix it?

For now, I just hope every one of you will take this idea with you when you go furniture shopping next and make it a point to ask the manager of the store about a standing desk. Perhaps we’ll make a dent in the system soon enough..