Wednesday, April 4, 2018

No Room for Small Dreams

The story of Israel is inspiring. And this is a story by Shimon Peres, one of the founding fathers of the country, so to say. After getting a recommendation on reading this book, it waited on my shelf for its turn to arrive.

The book itself is worth a read. More importantly, here are my takeaways on what it means to be a leader from this book.

For one, A reader must prepare hard. Work hard. In different situations.
Be Prepared for any opportunity that might cross her way.
Listen; listen well; listen actively...
Take risk: it is only after we see failure that we will know if we misjudged the risk.
Open new possibilities
Optimism and naivete are not one and the same...
Make the hard decisions that leadership demands (and therein lies one of the most important tenets - as a leader you cannot escape facing and making tough decisions. If all one had to do was to take easy decisions, one does not need leaders.)
Standing still is not an option, despite many successes
Seek and have a mentor with whom you can discuss when you feel 'alone'
Innovation is always an uphill climb. Go after an 'impossible' dream. Austerity cannot be an obstacle for audacity. We need to set our gaze higher than our temporary limitations.

And Israel having been a victim of terrorism for long, this is a line I really loved: Leaders would be wise to remember that when there is a gun to you head, you are not the negotiator, you are the hostage. Holding firm to such a position demands a willingness to make dangerous and difficult choices.

Sidenote: The book is written in an unassuming manner, almost prosaic. I wish it had a little more 'Israel' in it.

From the other side

Recently, I read Paul Allens - Idea Man. And set me thinking about how in a team when there is one 'Big' founder, the story from the other side is often more unvarnished and presents a different perspective than the dominant narrative.

And thus, I started re-reading iWoz to see if there were some parallel perspectives there.

For one, both Paul Allen and Steve Wozniak were the 'idea' guys. Both were avid tinkerers (and I am coming to believe that tinkering is an essential part of the learning process.), got interested in something early and pursued it with a lot of freedom.

In the not so prominent founders book, you get to see a more human side of the prominent founder with all their flaws. You get glimpses of the early culture of the company at the time it was founded and so on.

The founders seem to have something in common (passion for technology, hands on in technology) and a complementing skillset (one tech, one business). One of them is more 'communicative' in the sense of 'marketing savvy'.

The lesser partner's story, if you will, is more candid when it comes to certain things (culture, behind the scenes) while the more well known partner is more about an image (could be true the other way as well).

Having said that, either way, for a long time, the two work in tandem, take decisions, take risk - sort out conflicts - one way or other, are fully transparent to each other and stand by each other.

As you (and your partner) build a company, it is important to have continuous conversations on what is the vision, direction, next steps and stay tuned into each other...

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Timeshares are fun or are they?

I received yet another invite for a timeshare on my mail. In the spam folder only, but as I looked at it, I wondered if timeshares are a good idea?

Many years ago, we had considered going in for a timeshare and then we paused and said, well, we do want our vacations to be different experiences each time. And that has been a good thing because for one, we aren't bound by dates and artificial constraints from the timeshare, apart from our own.

More importantly, our vacations have been different. From treks to pilgrimages to beach holidays to temple towns to laid back visits to forgotten places to home-stays to food by the roadside - each of them has been different. We have met wonderful hosts, teams, guides and cuisines along the way.

A lot of "big-one-size-fits-all" is being broken up into more customisable pieces. In an age of airbnb where big hotels are more about business travel, I think we made the right choice.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Gene

Of course, it is a Pulitzer prize winning book, so it is a great book.

But here is what I liked about how it ticks the boxes in terms of what I really like in a non fiction book.

One, it takes a historically known something and tell you many things you did not know. In some cases takes something unknown and makes you aware. Or throws light on a new concept.

The second, it brings people alive around it. Brings to light facts, personalities, their quirks, how they worked, how they researched.

Third, it connects them - and Gene especially does this very well. Joins the dots beautifully in an intricate tapestry.

Fourth - and this is the bonus with Gene as compared to other books in this genre - is that it is very well written. It is page turning, like a fiction book. Like a mystery; well almost.

Fifth - the story is not a linear story. It goes back and forth, into new branches, characters pop up in one place vanish and show up in an another place - sometimes, across a generation.

And finally, it makes it all simple. In a way that even non-scientific person can understand.

Some books like Tipping Point, Thinking Fast and Slow, Sapiens - all tick most of these boxes.

Monday, March 5, 2018

On Beginnings

We sat there, watching a friend in his first ever yoga class. This friend has years of experience (the yoga teachers experience is measured in decades, not hours - he said). The class was being held in a not very posh place. It was simple. The people who came to learn were not people you will find in Nike ads.

One way to think about it is to say
Why does someone with so much experience have to do this?
Does he have to go through this grind?
He deserves so much more.
He should have waited and launched himself at a bigger place.

The other way is to say
He is trying
He is brave
He is working on his mission
He has brought his passion alive in a small way

Thats when it struck me. Beginnings are small. All beginnings by their very nature are small. Take any dream, any business. The beginnings are almost always messy, untidy and even unsure.

But they are beginnings...

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

On Loco

Now, playing Loco has had a strange effect on our lives. Loco is all about general knowledge/trivia and suddenly the kids are interested in collecting general knowledge. This is good, IMO. Unlike a TV quiz show where you are shouting answers at the screen, this is visceral. You play, you get a response and you see others who got the answer right or wrong and you can empathise or feel jealous or elated depending on whether you reach the 10th question or win or lose on the way.

The second change I saw was startling. The kids are not very social in general - and take time to talk to people. But at a recent gathering, I saw them talk to people and get them to install the app so that we can get a 'life'.

I found this behaviour fascinating. Conversation is difficult in general, a sales conversation even more difficult. And the zillion times we have nudged them to talk to people especially at family functions - results have been mixed. But now that talking to people got them "lives", suddenly, all of them were on their feet talking to people, getting them to install the app - and many oldies let them do the honour as well.

This is where I believe virtual games and mechanics have a potential to drive real life behaviour. This is one such example. See Jane McGonigals great TED talk on this topic if you still havent... 

Monday, February 26, 2018

On milkshakes

Or milkshakes in a bottle to be precise.

A few years (maybe months) ago, somebody launched milkshakes in a bottle. And you could take the bottle home as a keepsake. This was a classic bottle - shaped like the old milk bottles and instantly was the talk of the town (in some circles atleast). I dont know who did this, but whoever did it had competition very quickly.

Soon, everybody came to serve milkshakes in their own version of classic/keepsake glass bottles and within no time the novelty was lost.

Couple of points:
Glass bottles are good - better than plastic and if glass usage goes up - recycling of glass - which is currently a problem - goes up - and all that I agree.
Keepsakes are good - atleast used to be good when I grew up - when every container worth keeping was kept and used in various hand-me-down avatars.
Milkshakes are milkshakes - the only real differentiator is the quality of the ingredients and the skill of the person who makes the recipe. Here I assume that milkshakes are real and not pre-configured essences mixed in a particular quantity and whipped to create a milkshake.

Having considered all the above points, a bottle for a milkshake is no differentiator. It is like a wrapper. One buys the product, not the wrapper (other things being equal).

So, the milkshake in a bottle is as common as, well, plastic bags. And nobody wants it.

Question to all of us is this: Is our product the milkshake or the bottle? And what should we focus upon?