Friday, April 27, 2018

Trekking with the kids

This year, we decided to introduce trekking to the kids. And we took them on a short trek in the Garwhal Himalayas. It was a 2 days, 1 night trek.

They were trained enough. With short 6km walks, a little stair climbing for a few weeks before the event, carrying their bags and walking. They were sensitised to carrying their own bags. We involved them in the shopping (shoes, trek wear, ponchos, plates), got them to break in the shoes through the training and they kept up their training. But then, you never know. They might get bored or fatigued or pass on the bags to the adults or complain of pain or fatigue and so on.

We neednt have worried.

The night before the trek, they were so excited, they could barely sleep. At the point where the trek started they were like race cars revving up their engines waiting for the green signal. They set off with the advance guide and set a blistering pace. The adults were behind all the time with the trailing guide. They enjoyed every aspect of the trek - ponchos when it rained, fleece when it was cold - and took the weather in their stride.

They soaked in every vista - from the scenery to the goats on the way to the simple lunch en route to the water stops. They were unfazed - with the rain, the cold, the heat, the stones on the path...

They enjoyed the stay in the tent, the unlimited pakodas in the evening, the tea in the morning, the trek up the hill to the summit and back (they practically ran down), the stars at 2 am... When the clouds descended on the camp - and visibility fell to near zero - they were happily enjoying the feeling of being inside the cloud. They followed (and enforced) every Leave no Trace rule including washing their own plates (with ash for good measure).

It was physically tough on the adults - as we were far behind the kids and nowhere able to sprint as fast as they could. The good thing was that we did not dampen their enthusiasm by asking them to walk slow or be cautious. The guides were in charge and they took good care and ensured that the kids did not go overboard. But yes, I am happy that their first exposure to a Himalayan trek was this wondrous!

Thursday, April 26, 2018

The language of the trek guide

Trek guides have a difficult time. Their lives are filled with loaded questions of the "Have you stopped beating your wife" kind. No answer will be right.

I have written about this earlier, on the learnings from a trek guide.

The recent trek we undertook, the guide used a similar 'language'.

The perfect balance between authority and free for all.
The perfect balance between fear and abandon.
The perfect balance between discipline and fun.

He kept us on time - each time - he would give us a time and stick to it. He correctly estimated the time it would take for a bunch of people in their 40s and a bunch of energetic kids to reach the place (any place). He took a call on where we should be eating. He kept an eye on the weather and smiled each time his calls were proved right. He kept the group in sight by splitting the local guide to lead and himself bringing up the rear.

And after all this, you have the laggards (us) asking him questions like, How am I doing? And this is perhaps the most difficult question of all. And like the earlier guide, he said, you are doing very well - this was not a lie because most people do what they can given their physical limitations and fitness.  He also followed it up with a 'why' he said that - so that it does not appear like a politically correct answer.

No trek guide ever says, you are not doing well enough or that you need to go faster. They always keep the energy and the motivation going by focusing on the what rather than the who. Instead they always say - we have to get there by 430 or it will rain (or be dark). Or they say, we will reach there by 430 and they get you there by 430 (after a bunch of rest stops and water breaks) and we amateur trekkers think, wow, we are good. And all trek guides are patient, very patient - with the slowest of the team and never lose it...And get every single person on the team to the goal!

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


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...