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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Choosing a song

It is so easy to listen to a new song, another song, today. Its just a click away. Every one of us can listen to pretty much every single song ever released at just the click of a button.

When this is the case, hardly anyone sits through the full three or four or five or six minutes of a song when she can flip to the next song (that may be slightly better at that moment) after listening to the first few seconds.

When we are spoilt for choice, it is natural to select the familiar and the popular easing the decision making process. After all, many of us are not connoisseurs of music. This is why new artists try so hard to make it to the Billboard Top 20. Because that will make them automatic choices for many lazy listeners looking for new music who will choose the familiar and the popular.

What happens is we cease becoming adventurers and participants in this grand experiment of art, and we simply become consumers and really good commodity experts.
- Richard Powers

When there is commoditization of a product, the quality invariably hits the lowest common denominator. This is good for nobody in the long run.

For the past few years, I have been giving every song five full listens at the minimum before I remove it from my playlist. I automatically rate a new song 5 stars and reduce a star every time I listen to it and don't really enjoy it. 

I'm still guilty of choosing the familiar and the popular when it comes to movies and TV shows though. And to a certain extent, books. I'm changing all of that gradually.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Be a connoisseur

Most companies don't care about what they make. They merely care about what they sell.
- Umair Haque 

It is easy to care about what you sell. Because it is easy to measure. You know precisely how many units of your product you sell, from which stores, from which websites, on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly basis.

When it is easy to measure, it is easy to set targets. To sell 10% more, 20% more year on year, quarter on quarter. 

It is not as easy to measure what you make. How useful is your product? How simple is it to use? How beautiful is it? How much will it delight your customers? When you don't know how to measure something, how do you set a target for it? 

As Umair Haque puts it, there needs to be an emphasis on taste. You need to be a connoisseur of what you are shipping in order to make a great product.

The numbers that you can measure in sales, RoI, market share are all symptoms. You can invest your time and energy in boosting the symptoms and not pay attention to the underlying cause. And you will end up trying to beat your competition on price, on features, on size. Which customers might be happy to settle for. Until someone else comes along and offers something cheaper, bigger.

Focus on the cause instead. Be a connoisseur of what you make. Don't settle. And customers will camp outside your store waiting for your product to hit the shelves. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Tim Cook on privacy

A few years ago, users of Internet services began to realise that when an online service is free, you're not the customer. You're the product. But at Apple, we believe a great customer experience shouldn't come at the expense of your privacy.
Our business model is very straightforward: We sell great products. We don't build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers. We don't "monetize" the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud. And we don't read your email or your messages to get information to market to you. Our software and services are designed to make our devices better. Plain and simple.
Our commitment to protecting your privacy comes from a deep respect for our customers. We know that your trust doesn't come easy. That's why we have and always will work as hard as we can to earn and keep it.

This is part of Apple's Tim Cook's open letter to customers.

Today, digital privacy comes at a price. It is constantly a trade-off to decide whether to pay for a service with money or with attention to ads and interruptions that come in your way of using the service.

And a lot of people are still comfortable paying with their attention to ads and promotions targeted at them based on their behaviour that Apple doesn't keep track of.

Apple on one hand, and Google and Facebook on the other, are selling to different market segments. Tim Cook appears to be trying to poach some customers from the other segment, and will succeed as the disposable incomes of customers grows making the trade-off decision easier.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Meaning and Happiness

To increase happiness, do something fun. To increase meaning, do something challenging.

I have been happy plenty of times in my life. I'm not talking about happy as an extended state of mind, but as a burst of unhindered emotion with no guilt or regret. It almost always happens when I play football or when I watch Chelsea win a game. It is essential. But experiencing it too often will make it boring. The law of diminishing marginal utility sets in and progressively drives away the happy feeling.

If at that point, I decide to take up a challenging activity like writing a blog post or preparing for a customer pitch or going for a long run, I rarely have the motivation to do justice to the task at hand. I end up doing just about enough to tick off a checklist as opposed to really take the challenge (that the task is) head on and come out successful and be able to reflect back upon a job well done.

While I agree with what Chris says, the context in which we do something fun or something challenging makes a good deal of difference in increasing happiness or meaning.

When I plan my week, I intersperse things that are challenging and fun in an attempt to increase both. When most of the items on my plan fall into neither category, I know I'm in trouble and need an overhaul in what I'm doing.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Work and Pleasure

My definition of success is if you can't distinguish between work and pleasure.
- James Manos, the creator of Dexter

I hear people talking about the sacrifices one has to make to succeed in achieving their dreams. 

If you are thinking of something as a sacrifice, you are differentiating what is work and what is pleasure. And you are identifying things that fall in the 'pleasure' category that can be given up so that more can be accommodated  in the 'work' category. 

The moment you start thinking this way, you set out goals (dreams?) to achieve and try to minimize the time spent doing 'work' that is needed to get to the goal, and maximize the time spent doing 'pleasure', 

To me, this is a poor motivator. Every time I have to make a trade off decision on whether to pick an activity in the 'work' column or one in the 'pleasure' column takes away some of the joy in doing that activity as a bit of guilt/regret creeps in of not choosing the other.

When I read what James Manos had to say about success, I felt that is how I have been living my life for the past few years. 

When there is no distinction between work and pleasure, when everything you do is part of a routine that you look forward to, that is when there is the highest level of motivation for every activity irrespective of which column it falls in and that is when there is negligible guilt or regret of not doing something else.

When you are highly motivated, nothing will prevent you from claiming success.