The paradox of revenge – MBA Learnings

Carlsmith, Wilson and Gilbert of Harvard University published a study about the effects of revenge.

Individuals encountered a free-rider and were given the option to punish, not punish or forecast feelings about punishing the free-rider. Their positive mood was then monitored and measured. The results of the study are nicely summed up in 1 image.

The Paradox of Revenge
People who punished others felt significantly less positive because they continued to ruminate about their offenders while those who forgave moved on.

I think this idea applies beyond revenge. The more we give space to negative feelings like anger, ego and revenge, the more they take over our lives. As The Buddha summed up beautifully in a quote on anger – “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”

There’s a lot that can go wrong. Forgive. Move on. And, when communicating with yourself, remember “Jennifer, relax!


Dancing with discomfort

There are 3 ways to view discomfort. The most popular way to view it is as something transitory to keep away from. This view involves working hardest to avoid it. It isn’t comfortable. Why bother?

The second is to view it as a necessary nuisance. Learning doesn’t come without discomfort after all. So, this view focuses on tolerating it as a means to an end.

However, the most enlightened approach is to not just live with it, but to love it. In this view, we don’t just tolerate discomfort but we treat it like we’d treat a close friend. We welcome it and dance with it.

And, why shouldn’t we? Nothing great has been done without discomfort. Our happiness doesn’t lie in strolling about life with a balanced and careful gait. The wonderful Viktor Frankl spoke of the idea of the pursuit of happiness. What words come to mind when you think of pursuit? Does it comfortable? Heck, no. Does it sound tough and tiring? Yes! But, does it sound adventurous, exciting and exhilarating? Absolutely.

It is great to pursue happiness, success, and all those things we associate with the idea of the good life. But, as Frankl wisely pointed out, the good things in life can’t be pursued. They ensue. And, all we can do is make sure we listen to our conscience and do as much as we can to impact as many people as possible in causes we care about. Success and happiness follow precise because we forget to think about it.

All of this requires us to not just tolerate discomfort but to invite it. It is our adventure, our party and discomfort is a huge part of the narrative.. it is time we learnt how to dance with it.

Organization and creativity

I’ve regularly conversed with people who’ve somehow been led to believe that organization stifles creativity. They feel that being planned and organized means you never get to enjoy the moment.

The opposite is true.

When you are planned and organized, you can actually take time off on a whim and let welcome interruptions get in the way because you know you have the situation under control. So, interruptions don’t stress you out because you have time to make it up. And, welcome interruptions (e.g. a close friend drops in to talk to you about something important) actually remain welcome.

That’s not to say you’ll avoid stress. I’d even argue a little bit of stress and pain is good. But, organization helps you avoid panic – the biggest enemy of productivity – and actually manages to free your mind.

And, it should come as no surprise that it takes a free mind to make interesting associations, i.e., to be creative.

100% activity, 0% productivity

Prioritization sounds like a really simple idea. Make a list of the most important things to do and just get through them. In fact, there’s a story from the 1920s that a productivity consultant suggested that manufacturing tycoon Charles Schwab make a list of 3 things to do every day and just make sure he did nothing but those 3 things. Schwab was so happy with the idea that he paid the consultant 125,000 (a huge sum in those days) for the value he added.

If I’d started yesterday a la Schwab with a list of prioritized items, I would have ended the day with items 4, 5 and 6 checked off and the most important items untouched. And, yet, I was “busy” in a perfect case study of a day filled with activity and limited productivity. Activity is anything we do. Productivity, however, is anything we do that helps us make progress towards our goals. Essentially, productivity wouldn’t exist without prioritization.

I’d argue that the ability to prioritize matters more today than ever before. With so many things we can keep ourselves busy with it, it is really easy to confuse activity with productivity. I also notice that yesterday just left me feeling tired and discontented. It is amazing how de-motivating a general lack of purpose can be.

So, today, I plan to do a Schwab and start with a list of the 3 most important things. Here’s to regaining some of that energy.

“Jennifer, relax.”

As an old gentleman walked into a super market, he noticed a small girl crying loudly. She was no older than 2 and was trying to persuade her mom to buy her something she wanted. Her mom just said calmly – “Jennifer, relax.”

The girl immediately started crying even louder. Again, her mom said – “Jennifer, relax.”

By now, the girl had started screaming and was attracting a lot of attention. This time, her mom said calmly – “Jennifer, you don’t want to create a scene in the supermarket. So, relax.”

The man walked to the mom and said – “I am amazed at how calm you are. But, surely, she can’t understand what you’re saying, can she?”

“What makes you think I was talking to her?” – the mom replied.

(I can’t find the source for this story. All I know that it is an excerpt from a talk that was passed on, via a Whatsapp message, by a Mr.Rajan – so, thank you Mr Rajan – wherever you are.)

I thought the takeaway from this talk is brilliant – the quality of your communication with the world determines your impact, but it is the quality of your communication with yourself that determines your happiness.

And, I’d argue that impact made without happiness is akin to an artificial flower – looks good from a distance but lacks the substance and aroma that makes a flower special.

So, let’s communicate better with ourselves this week and remember to treat ourselves with infinite patience and kindness. And, of course, the next time you find yourself in a situation that tests your patience, remember.. “Jennifer, relax.”

Think-week – The 200 words project

I hope you’re having a nice weekend. Here’s this week’s 200 word idea thanks to Essentialism by Greg McKeown on Linkedin, Susan Heathfield on (as a part of what seems to be Bill Gates weekend at ALearningaDay)..

Bill Gates has a bi-annual ritual called “think-week.” As Microsoft CEO, prior to each think week, Gates has his assistants collected papers “from every corner of Microsoft,” according to what they thought his priorities should be.

He would then spend a week in a cottage in the woods where friends and family were banned. And, he’d spend his days reading papers on proposals from Microsoft’s employees, studying technology and thinking about the bigger picture. The week was then followed by a flood of e-mail messages to his colleagues and employees about new ideas, old ideas, existing projects, and proposed ones.

He started this in the 1980s and stuck to it through the height of Microsoft’s expansion. No matter how busy or frenetic, he created time and space to seclude himself for a week to do nothing but read and think about the bigger picture. Today, he still takes the time away from the daily distractions of running his foundation to simply think.

As author Greg McKeown points out, “whether you can invest two hours a day, two weeks a year, or even just five minutes every morning, it is important to make space to escape in your busy life.”

Think-weekSource and thanks to:

‘I think that if we spend a little bit of time every day cut off from the noise – it could be walking, sitting in meditation, journaling, exercise, or just staring at the sky – just a little bit of time reconnecting with you without your title, your obligations, your responsibilities, the things that plague you all day long, that would enable you to build a foundation and then work your tail off.’ – Jerry Colonna on

“Yes, Mom, I am thinking”

When Bill Gates was in the sixth grade, his parents decided he needed counseling. He was at war with his mother, Mary, who would often find him locked up in his basement bedroom.

Exasperated with no response from Bill one day, she asked him what he was doing through the intercom.
“I’m thinking,” he shouted back.
“You’re thinking?”
“Yes, Mom, I’m thinking,” he said fiercely. “Have you ever tried thinking?”

I was feeling weary last evening as I looked ahead at a weekend full of activity. And, I was lucky to have one of those long discussions (the sort that seems to yield more insight the more you think about it) with a couple of close friends last night. And, at a point in this discussion, this anecdote about Gates surfaced. Aside from marveling at the fact that Gates “got” this concept in his sixth grade, I realized that that was exactly what I needed to do. I had been in a perpetual state of motion this entire week and it was time to stop. And, so I did.

And, after 15 hours of time largely spent either asleep or in thought, it is incredible what the effect is on the other end. I have more clarity, renewed purpose, more direction and a lot more energy.

Many of us spend large parts of our live running away from thought. A state of perpetual motion is easier and a complete lack of activity is easiest. Yet, activity only becomes productivity when we make progress towards a purpose. There is no point optimizing small parts of our life if they aren’t helping the main thing.

It takes a commitment to regular reflection and thought to keep the main thing the main thing. And, I’d echo Stephen Covey’s prescient quote – the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

Comfort with knots

There are a few days in some months when I got to sleep with no knots in my stomach. On most other days, there is one knot or the other. These knots arise for various reasons – all related with dealing with the unresolved. This could be a tough decision, an important result, a difficult conversation, among others. The more responsibility you take on, the more unresolved situations there are.

Of course, these knots disappear the moment these situations are resolved. And, the other day, I found myself dreaming of a time when I could just go to bed knot-free.

It was then I realized that the resolution is a result. The period spent with a situation that is unresolved, on the other hand, is the process. And, over the course of our lives, the process is where we spend most of our time. We may not love dealing with what is uncertain and unresolved but we’ve got to learn to make peace with it. And, it begins with awareness and acceptance.

The conditions will never be perfect. We’ve just got to set sail and get on with it.

The obstacle

I’ve started out on a new design thinking class and we’re at the stage where we’ve identified a potential problem and need to assess if it really exists. One of the requirements of the class is to “get out of the building” and test the ideas by asking potential customers. For the first problem assessment assignment, I have 3 options – call up people I know and ask them, do some research locally or travel to the city (45 minutes away) and attempt to do it there. I say “attempt” because there is no guarantee they’ll stop and answer my questions.

I was amazed at the resistance surge I experienced within myself when I first gave the city option thought. I realized that my zone of comfort involved reaching out to people I knew and doing a quick survey of needs. The thought of going into the city, walking about, asking people questions, and getting rejected had woken up the resistance. Perhaps angered it even. It was now an obstacle and as the resistance didn’t want me to contemplate the thought. It even attempted to send a few excuses – you are too busy, there is that appointment you can’t miss, etc.

That moment was the surest sign that the right thing to do was to remove my appointments in the afternoon and head to the city.

The obstacle, I have come to learn, is generally the way.

Searching for the good life – MBA Learnings

“Think about the metric by which your life will be judged, and make a resolution to live every day so that in the end, your life will be judged a success.” | Clay Christensen

“Productivity is the act of bringing a system closer to its goal.”  | Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt

“The most important thing about the good life is that you get to decide what good is. If you are living someone else’s good life, you’re making a huge mistake.” | Seth Godin

These 3 quotes have given me plenty of food for thought over the past 2 years. They touch on 2 big questions –
1. What is the yardstick with which you will measure your life?
2. Assuming the goal is “the good life,” what is the good life as I define it?

These questions are so incredibly heavy that it feels easier to give up before I even get started. These 2 questions get at more questions – Who am I? What matters most to me and why? Ah. So much easier to just get on our to do lists and do the next thing.

And, yet, is there anything more important than asking these questions? There is no productivity if we’re not working towards the goal, after all..

This afternoon, a close friend and I, at school, are launching the first edition of a 3 part workshop series we’re calling “The Good Life sessions.” The idea is to break the idea of the good life down by asking 3 questions –
1. What do I value?
2. How do I find my personal mission?
3. How do I create an action plan to live a life consistent with this mission?

We’ve been fortunate to receive support from a collection of inspiring professors who’ve walked this path and continue to struggle with these questions. As anyone who reads this blog knows, I have definitely been struggling with these questions for a long while and, after 18 months of wrestling with these questions, have begun to find direction. So, we were really excited to test this idea with the student community and see if we’d find a small group of people who care.

It turned out there was actually a huge group of people who care. We received 70 registrations in the first 120 seconds of our registration opening up and had to close at close to 300 registrations (~25% of the student body) in the first 4 hours. We have a main lecture room and 2 overflow rooms booked today. It helped a lot that the Professors who’re helping us have great follower-ship within the school but (and I am based here) it feels like we’ve hit on a topic that many would like to explore. And, that’s great to see.

I’m not sure this has ever been done before. So, we’re definitely working hard to create structure and tackle these big questions in bite-sized chunks. Of course, this might not work. But, I guess, that’s what makes it really exciting.

More to follow on the good life sessions. For now, I’ll end with a big thank you to Clay Christensen, Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt and the wonderful Seth for those 3 big ideas.the good