Social Icons


Featured Posts

Monday, November 23, 2015

What if there aren't 200 books?

None of my friends ask me for movie reviews. Recommendations, yes. But not reviews. I like to think it's because I don't criticise any movie. It might be the most mundane, and I'll still tell you 'Yeah, it was alright' if you asked me how it was.

I don't do it intentionally. It's just what I take out of movies, I guess. At worst, it is just another implausible story with lots of loopholes. At best, it will make me relate the plot and the dialogues to what I see and experience in everyday life. There is only room for criticism when there is expectation. If you don't know what to expect, it is highly likely that you don't criticise what you see. That's perhaps why I enjoy movies more when I watch them without having seen the trailers or without knowing who the actors are.

I do the same with books and this has it's advantages.

Here's James Altucher talking about mentors:
"If you want virtual mentors, read 200 books in your field of interest. Every 50 books is worth one mentor.
What if there aren't 200 books?
There are. A book about quantum mechanics is a book about painting butterflies. Everything is connected when you filter with what you love."
Whenever I've been very focused about looking for something, I've struggled to draw parallels where they are either hard to see or don't exist at all. And drawing such parallels is sometimes the most interesting. Like looking at Tesla's new features on display and thinking that it has a potential to do to cars what Amazon did to servers. Or like thinking special events in a relationship are like marketing campaigns.

I once wrote a letter to someone explaining how we weren't looking at things the same way despite working with the same facts as I had created a semi-imaginary world around those facts, weaving them into a more cohesive story than what was true in reality, and was chasing that story.

If you think about it, that's what a mentor or a coach is supposed to do to you. They need to take the available facts and weave them into a semi-imaginary but cohesive story that you can then believe in and chase. This is what product managers do with the products they build. This is what artists do with their art.

And it all begins with connecting seemingly unrelated things by filtering with what you love.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Do you run marketing campaigns in your relationships? You should!

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to our Marketing head about the impact of marketing campaigns on traffic to our website and app. Well, to be honest, it was less talking from my side and more explaining from his side.

Our traffic has been growing tremendously all through this financial year, and while looking at the growth graphs, one of the key things that could be noticed was the impact of marketing campaigns.

While the organic traffic growth was at a steady pace, there were bumps in growth every now and then, before returning to the organic pace of growth. But, each time, the point it returned to (in terms of the absolute traffic number) was higher than where the absolute number would have been had it grown at the organic pace for the duration of the campaign.

If this is not true of any of your marketing campaigns, then the campaign has failed at driving up traffic to your site and app. This is interesting, yes, but not as interesting as the other side of this graph.

This is the graph that is seen by someone running the marketing campaign. But there are thousands of graphs, one for every person that has been touched by the marketing campaign. These people will have some people who are encountering the advertised product for the first time and some who are encountering it for not their first time (I want to draw these graphs, but it's 1am on a Saturday night and I've been writing for the last one hour, so I'll describe the graphs instead as I'm a bit lazy at this point to draw them). Let's look at both the cases. And in both cases, I will only look at the people who decide to interact with the product (download it, use it, whatever) after seeing the ad.

In the first case, the person is coming across your product for the first time. So, the interaction level jumps up from zero to some non-zero level X. Over a period of time, which could be anywhere between a few seconds and a few months, the user's interaction level falls to a level Y, which is anywhere between X and 0 (with the probability steadily increasing as the level approaches 0). Once it falls below a certain level is potentially a good time to launch the next marketing campaign. And since our products have multiple users (unlike our relationships which I will soon come to), we need to wait till a sizable number of users fall below the threshold interaction level before launching the next marketing campaign.

And the reaction to the next marketing campaign goes pretty much like the first except for the fact that some of the people don't react and drop off being your users.

If you observe any of your relationships, you will notice a similar pattern. This is not just in romantic relationships, but in relationships of any kind with any person or with any inanimate object or even intangible things like habits and feelings (motivation, depression, you name it). The equivalent of a marketing campaign here is an event. This event can be anything from a Friday night-out, a phone call, a meaningful conversation, a gesture, a fight, a letter, to something more physical.

The first time such an event occurs, there is a spike in the interaction level (or intimacy, or anything else that suits the relationship in question) from 0 to a level X, which soon (anywhere between a few seconds to a few months) falls to a level Y, which is anywhere between X and 0 (with the probability steadily increasing as the level approaches 0). This is the time to experience another event. And even here, there is a possibility of drop-off at each event.

I have always known it is necessary to do new things now and then to sustain a relationship and to keep it fresh (again, not just applicable to romantic relationships, but of every kind), but only now have I been able to theorize it in seemingly technical terms.

So, do you run marketing campaigns in your relationships? You should!

PS: I decided to draw a graph after all.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The anatomy of riling someone up

If you have watched Diego Costa play, you will know that one of his prime strengths is in riling up the opposing defenders that he's up against, thus increasing their proneness to making mistakes. As a striker, Diego Costa then has an edge for the rest of the game over the riled up defenders as he can exploit the mistakes they can potentially make. We saw this in Gabriel's sending off when he played against Arsenal back in September this year (he earned a 3-match ban himself for his antics which is another matter altogether). But, his success as a goal scorer is proof that riling someone up can work in your favour.

Diego Costa is just one example. There are thousands of a similar nature. In sports, especially the ones on the slightly physical side like football and basketball, trying to rile someone up is a common tactic. It can work positively or negatively with almost an equal probability and that's the whole point of it. A professional, your opponent, who has trained so hard to play with discipline, stick to the overall team strategy (or individual strategy depending on the game), will be quite meticulous in its execution. When two professionals go head to head, it is only natural to expect that the one with the better strategy, the better ability and the better discipline to stick to and execute the strategy will come out triumphant.

Unless one of them succeeds in riling the other one up.

When you hurl abuses, condemn the way someone plays, annoy or irritate them by doing things they don't expect you to (it sometimes works even when they expect you to, like Diego Costa has shown), you rile them up, anger them and test their temper. Until that temper is under control, the opponent is going to stick to the strategy, be disciplined and will have a solid game (to the best of his ability). The moment you manage to make him lose his temper and successfully rile him up, you break his discipline. He, then, has a fair probability of sticking to discipline or going rogue and doing something stupid (like lashing out at someone and getting himself sent off).

In a professional setting, this fifty-fifty probability is something the opposition can work with. They still remain disciplined, so if the riled up player has a positive effect and plays exceptionally well by channeling that anger into his game, the opposition is still prepared because they are still disciplined enough to stick to their strategy which involves having a plan for every player of the opposition playing at their best. But, if the opposing player doesn't have a good game and makes mistakes when riled up, you are still disciplined to execute your strategy and exploit the mistakes committed. So, it is always a probabilistically good move to rile up the opposition. Naturally, a lot of teams and players employ this tactic.

I used to employ it myself in my footballing days. I'm not as aggressive as a Diego Costa to use my physical presence to rile up the opposition, but I could do it with words. Applauding any mistake made by the opposition, praising every small win for a team mate and stating out loud that the opponent on the ball doesn't have the ability to do anything productive with it, I could rile some people up, and they would make mistakes, turning my words into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This is only one side of riling someone up. It can be done at an altogether different level. A manager can do this to one of the players in his team by dropping him from the team (like Mourinho did to Hazard a couple of years ago). He can also do this by using words. This tactic is employed when the player is low in morale or is going through a poor run of form with the hope that there is a fifty-fifty chance he will channel this anger into a good performance to lift him out of the poor form. The status quo, in any case, is not good enough, so no harm in doing this.

However, this tactic is a double edged sword. One, you don't know how the player will react to it, so fifty-fifty probability is something you must be willing to live with when you employ this. Two, even if it does work, putting a stop to what it starts is not very easy and it takes some time for a player to lose the aggression and get back to his normal state of discipline. This is not too much of a worry in sports as the games are pretty distant from one another when you compare it to the duration of a game. So, the aggression will last the duration of a game at the most. Employ this to someone on your team at a traditional work place and there is a continuous stream of work to not be able to easily foresee when the aggression might come to an end. So, it must be used with a lot more caution in such a scenario.

Now that I think I understand the anatomy of riling someone up, I have a feeling I'm pretty riled up at the moment.

I'm usually on the doling out end (from my footballing days), so it is a different experience being on the receiving end. There's two unrelated and parallel tracks in my life that I feel I'm riled up in. But, having gone through a long period of calm (I think I was last visibly aggressive in a football tournament some three years ago), I'm liking having some aggression back. And this is completely natural as well, and thus one cannot rile oneself up. If it is a conscious attempt to do so, one knows about the fifty-fifty probability and the riling up just won't happen.

Liking the feeling of aggression (when riled up) is natural because the person who is riled up is convinced that his every action is going to result in a consequence that favours him, that he desperately needs. Even if it doesn't, the feeling continues to stay the same (that's perhaps why a riled up gambler cannot quit the table even if he's been losing a lot of money; he thinks it will work out his way the next round). It only ends when the intensity of the activity comes to an end for a sustained period (like the end of a football match).

I will likely write about my experience (the anatomy of winding back down?) when my current periods of intensity in the two parallel tracks come to an end for a sustained period. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

How often do you give your brain a work out?

I often turn to quotes. And movie/book references. And songs (although rarely so on this blog). It is the easiest way to index the incidents in my life that I come across in multitudes each day. Just like Google Search turns up relevant results that have the most 'hooks' to the search term, the mind turns up relevant incidents (real or fiction) that have the most 'hooks'. Given that most of my time is spent reading/watching/listening to something, they are natural contenders for good 'hooks'.

I often start my posts with a quote that I've liked. Although I'm not starting with one today, here's Cheryl Strayed saying she does something similar:
"I've always been a quote collector...From the comic to the profound, the simple to the complex, the sorrowful to the ecstatic, the inspiring to the stern, whenever I need consolation or encouragement, a clear-eyed perspective or a swift kick in the pants - which is often - quotes are what I turn to. They've been tacked to the walls of every home I've made. I've written them down in my journals and kept them on files in my computer. I've scribbled them on the back of ripped-open envelopes and drawn them across stretches of sand."
If you don't know who Cheryl is, she's the author of Wild, which was turned into a movie that released earlier this year starring Reese Witherspoon. It is Cheryl's own story of hiking a thousand miles on the Pacific Coast Trail from the Mojave desert near Mexico all the way up to the Canadian border. Alone.

That's a trek I'd like to take myself one day when I can afford to take a four month sabbatical.

The quote above is actually the introduction to her new book 'Brave Enough', which unsurprisingly, is a collection of quotes.

Nowadays, if you talk to me, I often bring up quotes and references in conversation. There is more content being generated every day than any of us can consume in our entire lifetime. Obviously, we can't consume it all. But we don't have to. You all know the 80/20 rule. You pick up 80 percent of what you need to know by consuming 20 percent of the content. Apply the rule twice more, each time to the 20 percent of the content that give you the 80 percent of perspective. And you will see that 1 percent of content will give you 50 percent of what you need to know. This one percent is your 'hooks'. This one percent can be in the form of quotes, good books, inspiring movies, thought-provoking articles and talks.

Once you have enough 'hooks', you will start noticing that most of the things (half the things to be precise as per the previous math I described) already align with your perspective. Then you go seeking the ones that don't align, and reconcile.

This is the best way to keep those synapses in your brain strong and create more connections. This is the equivalent of taking your brain to the gym.

How often do you give your brain a work out?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Is your work interesting?

Just in the last one month, I've spoken to several people who find their work interesting and look forward to the drive down to the office every morning. I've also spoken to several people who would rather be doing anything else than wake up in the morning and drive down to the office to get done what they are expected to.

When I probed and tried to understand what makes the work they do interesting (or not), is primarily two simple things. 

Truth: Whatever is the bigger picture, the vision, that your company is going after, you need to believe in that. The vision that you're going after and the efforts being taken towards it in terms of the kind of products being built, the kind of contracts being taken upon or the kind of customers being solicited must be aligned. You must feel that the actions of today are true to the larger vision of why the company exists. The vision itself can be anything. To be the most valuable or to have the largest market cap or to make the highest profits or to touch the most lives. It doesn't matter what it is as long as the actions of today are aligned with that. Of course, the specifics of the vision might be necessary to attract the right kind of people, but not necessary to keep them feeling interested in their work. 

Surprise: There is always room for surprise. You know your company well. You know what is accepted, what is forbidden and what is frowned upon and what is encouraged. You know what to expect as a consequence for any action that you take. The first step in surprising someone is to get them to expect something. Then over-deliver. The first step is already taken care of. All that's needed is for the occasional over-delivery. This can be anything from a higher bonus to a bigger responsibility. 

Those who found their work interesting had both these aspects going their way while those who didn't had at least one of these missing. There are CEOs who find their work interesting and there are CEOs who don't. There are teachers who find their work interesting and there are teachers who don't. Software Engineers. Consultants. Lawyers. Doctors. People who work for Google. People who work for Goldman Sachs. 

It is neither the nature of work nor the compensation nor the work-life balance that makes your work interesting. It is a combination of truth and surprise.

@HR folks, take note.

[Hat-tip to Seth Godin]