A friday evening compliment

At a previous project, we used to have a core team meeting on Friday evening where the project team updated the senior stakeholders of our progress. The meeting was the last thing in the day on Friday and we used to follow up with a next steps email afterward.

More often than not, we’d have a short note from our client – something to the tune of ‘Good job team. Great progress next week/let’s keep it going.’

It felt great. Some weeks were about the “great progress” while some others were just about the fact that we kept plugging away. It didn’t matter. A compliment on a friday evening made it feel like the week was worth the effort. Daniel Kahneman’s research in “Thinking, Fast and Slow” points to the fact that we only really remember the peaks and ends of experiences. It makes sense – if a work week is an experience, the friday evening is the end.

It’s a note to myself – when ending the work week, make sure to compliment the team I’m working with. It is such a simple thing to do and is always warranted since we’ve put our heart and soul into making progress that week. And, as we know, it makes a difference.

Silent gratitude is of use to no one..especially as we wrap up the work week and head into the weekend.

You are responsible for your mood

Here’s an exercise suggestion –

1. Take some time today to figure out how much of the day you spend in a good mood
2. Next, for the parts when you are in a bad mood, figure out what caused it and what you could have done better.

Repeat this exercise for a few days and you’ll find that the patterns begin to repeat.

A couple of years back, I realized that most of my bad moods were external driven – something or someone upset me and sent me down a bad mood spiral. I’ve worked on that and that’s changed a lot. A recent health check on causes for bad moods have led me to the following top 3 causes –

1. A stress about something unfinished (60%)
2. A recent unpleasant external experience (30%)
3. An irritation at being unable able to help someone close to me while they’re in need (10%)

As you can see, the causes are largely internal. I’m figuring out how best to cope with the primary cause of a bad mood – stress about something unfinished. A big part of that comes with setting realistic goals – something I’m working to get better at.

A bad mood is a destroyer of value and happiness. It affects the people around us. Dealing with a bad mood deserves a separate series of posts so I won’t go there. Today’s post is about 2 things – first, figure out if you’re spending an unhealthy proportion of time in a bad mood. If so, figure out what causes these moods. And second, your mood is your responsibility. Fix it.

The 7 habits to maximizing the football state-of-mind in a work day

When I’m playing football, I think of nothing but the game. Psychologists call this “flow.” I’ve often thought about how the football state-of-mind can be gotten to throughout a workday. I have since realized that it isn’t as simple as just showing up to play. Here are 7 things that help me –

1. Sleep as much as you need. 8 hours, 6 hours, 7 hours – figure out how much sleep you need and prioritize this over all else.

2. Show up and set a time limit. Show up on time or early and make the game fun by committing to a time limit. The moment you know you’ll be in the office till midnight, procrastination is inevitable.

3. Eat regularly to guard against ego depletion. Schedule meals regularly (perhaps lunch and an afternoon snack?) to keep your willpower muscle going strong. And while you are at it, eat healthy.

4. Group meetings where possible or space them out with 3-4 hour slots to maximize flow time. Yes, yes, you have lots of meetings and they are productivity killers. We know. Do what you can to make sure you have uninterrupted “flow” hours in a day.

5. Practice when you find some free time and stay fit. When you find free time, upgrade your skills. Or head to the gym. Staying fit matters.

6. Be ruthless about time spent outside of the field. Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs know a thing or two about longevity and they were big proponents of quiet lives and yoga. Do what it takes to show up enthusiastic the next morning.

7. Expose yourself to other play outside of work to improve your creativity. Sportsmen always play sports in training as other sports give them skills that they can use in their sports. Engage in activities outside work as they’ll often help you develop useful skills outside the office.

A manager of mine once said – “You have 3-4 productive hours in a day – 5 if you are lucky – use them carefully and use them well.”


Giving you a million..

..will not help you stay a millionaire in the long term. In fact, it could sabotage your chances.

Lottery winners hardly ever use their lottery winnings productively. Why?

The answer lies in the “how.” It is one thing to get a million and quite another to “be” a millionaire. To be a millionaire requires you to understand the “how” involved with being a millionaire i.e. the millionaire approach. For example, we picture millionaires with red Ferraris at home when research on real millionaires show that most of them drive 2nd hand cars to save money. Giving someone the ability to make big decisions does nothing if they haven’t grown into their role.

It is one thing to have resources. It is another thing to know how to use them.

Alex Wolf on creativity, play, and educating children


Alex Wolf is a friend I met on Fred Wilson’s wonderful blog community, AVC.com. Alex has been plotting to change the way children’s games are designed for the past couple of years and she’s been keeping us all engaged in her journey.

In this interview, Alex talks about her latest game “Ani-gram It” and her journey from designer to game inventor.




My favorite bits –

Ani-gram-it is a board game that’s a crossword style game.  I’m not allowed to use any big brand names, but it’s like that game that you play with a crossword.  Instead of using letters to build a word, you use body parts to build an animal.”

“One of my favorites is Sugata Mitra on TED talking about SOLE (Self Organized Learning Environments).  It’s not organized learning environments.  To me the game is really a soul in itself.  It’s a group-learning situation, but it’s not just group learning.   It’s play.”

“Knowledge is a bunch of stuff.  What you do with it is what happens after.  I think we spend so much time in education stuffing the stuff in that that’s the primary activity.  If we can make the acquisition of knowledge easy and elegantly structured in your mind, then you can start the real work.  That’s when you start having the fun.”

“I think that you have to choose as few things as you can get by with and make them really smart.”

“Another productivity hack is just not having a lot of stuff.  My productivity hack is that you don’t need a spatula and a cheese slicer.  You just need a cheese slicer that you can use as a spatula.  We don’t need as many things as we think we need.”

“Play has been where we are at heart.  The more I become involved in the thinking of game and toy design, new forms of learning, how we’re engaging children at school, how we’re engaging them at home, how they connect with their peers, and how we connect with them , the more I realize that play is really core.  Animals that play successfully are the ones who survive better.”

The full transcript, as always, on RealLeaders.tv

On property ownership and the 2007 crash

This week’s book learning is part 11 of a 12 part series on The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson. (Parts 123456789, 10)

Property ownership is a recent phenomenon. Until a 100 years ago, only the aristrocracy owned land. The consistent nature of war in Europe meant the price of food (and thus, the price of land) was consistently high. However, as peace time came in, land’s value began going down while the aristocracy lived way beyond their means leading to a gradual loss of property over time.

The concept of a “property owning democracy” was created in America. Moves by Franklin D Roosevelt lead to governments protecting mortgages leading to the set up of FANNY MAE. Initially, there was segregation in the policy as African Americans paid higher interest. By the 1970s, the set up of FREDDIE MAC made discrimination a crime. Margaret Thatcher followed suit in the UK and the rest of the world followed.

But, the US ran into all sorts of trouble in the 1980s thanks to de-regulating SNLs or “Savings and Loans” corporations that enabled people to buy property. Since they effectively insured SNLs, SNL scams were all over the place and cost the US more than 150 billion dollars. Around the same time, Salomon brothers’ bond traders reinvented mortgages by bundling them all together and converting them into “bonds” by sub-dividing them into strips that mature at different times – giving birth to a “collateralized debt obligation” or CDO.

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These CDOs marked a shift from a world where there was a link between interest givers and payers. Previously, home owners paid interest to their lenders. Now, the lenders bought securities from the big banks meaning home owners paid their interest to someone who didn’t even know they existed.

Additionally, since these mortgage based securities were actually guaranteed by the US government, their credit ratio was equivalent to US treasury bonds! Thus, more and more “sub-prime mortgages” (risky loans given to folks with dodgy credit history) were given away leading to more people “buying” houses they couldn’t afford. The disconnect between lenders and interest givers meant banks took larger and larger risks… until that fateful day in 2008 when Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy triggering the global meltdown.

Writing for thanksgiving

I think Thanksgiving has got to be one of the coolest traditions ever. I like the simplicity of the idea – give thanks. Despite not having anything to do with the holiday culturally (I have never lived in the US or Canada), I love the idea and have been celebrating it over the last few years by giving thanks via written letters.

So, my hope for this year’s thanksgiving is that you will spread the thank you joy as well. Do think of 5-10 people who’ve really had an impact on you this year or over the course of your life and write them a thank you note. Email can work but writing it on a white sheet of paper works even better.

Writing can be a painful process (literally.. we aren’t used to writing any more) but it’s very rewarding. Snail mail/physical mail has a special charm. Think about the look of surprise on the person’s face when they see the letter to help motivate yourself. Do give it a shot and let me know how it goes!

Happy thanksgiving preparation in advance!

Learning begins with self awareness

I’ve learnt a few things about myself over the years that have greatly helped me learn better.

1. I need a coach. I lean towards the attention deficit side of the spectrum and need coaches to help me focus. I do not have the capability to be self taught. If I taught myself a skill, I’d miss the important aspects. I spent a few months trying to teach myself the guitar in university. But, I invested in a teacher last year and it made all the difference in the world. I’ve since made “finding coaches” a habit.

2. You don’t need a high IQ to get good in most things. Learning most things is hardly dependent on IQ. Sure, a high IQ helps but getting good requires other sorts of traits – tenacity, grit, willpower, openness and a willingness to ask for help. And you know what’s amazing about these skills right? They can all be developed.

3. I need to teach and share. I learn very well when I need to teach and share. I’ve attempted to create systems to be able to do that via this blog, the weekend book learning initiative, and The Bookbytes project.

There are a few other learnings but these are probably the 3 most important ones. Admitting to myself that I am not capable of being self taught when I have a close friend who seems to do it with ease wasn’t easy. Neither was it easy to admit that I was failing on my expectations on willpower. But it helped. Learning isn’t easy. We pay lip service to the idea too often. That doesn’t mean it isn’t doable. It can done and made into a habit.

It just begins with self awareness.

Writing when I’m not on a roll

As I get ready to push the publish button on a post every morning, I typically ask myself two questions –

Am I sharing an interesting idea?
Am I articulating it nicely?

I don’t think I do a great job articulating my ideas in these posts. I am not all that good a writer – my grammar and choice of words is average and my sentence construction is weak at best. That means I need to spend a lot more time editing and rewriting posts than better writers and there’s never enough time to do that in the morning. I’m hoping I’ll get better at this as the years pass.

But, I do feel I owe it to everyone to write about something insightful or interesting. And, when I go through a couple of days when I wonder if I have been sharing something of value, the subsequent days become tough till I break out of that cycle.

I have to go back to the “why” behind this blog. Broadly, it involves 3 things –

– Share my failures so I remember they are learnings and don’t take them too seriously
– Help you gain some occasional perspective in your daily life – we can learn from someone else’s experiences
– Live the “a learning a day” philosophy and hopefully spread it as I believe the outcome of doing so is a happy one..

Writing when I feel I’m not on a roll is painful as I feel like I’m not meeting objectives 2 and 3.

But, visiting the “why” helps.. because I realize that my failure to share something insightful is still just that – a failure. They aren’t to be taken too seriously. And perhaps I’m meant to learn that, on some days, just showing up is a small win worth celebrating.