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Thursday, August 20, 2015

The whole and the parts

We all have role models that we follow, celebrities that we admire, and mentors we look up to. These people might be alive (Mark Zuckerberg), dead (Heath Ledger), or fictional (Jay Gatsby). Nonetheless, they play a huge part in shaping our lives.

It all starts with the admiring of these people for a certain quality which eventually starts spreading to their other qualities until it encompasses them as a whole. At this point, we are either in agreement with everything this person does or in disagreement with everything this person does. For or against.

This is the reason scandals involving celebrities are of a lot more interest to people, because it helps shape the for or against debate. 'How can Shashi Tharoor refer to people as cattle?' 'How can Tiger Wood cheat on his wife?' 'How can Lady Gaga dress normal?' It is against our perception of the whole that we know.

The role model should never be in whole, but always in parts. I like to watch free-flowing, attacking football, and that doesn't mean I don't enjoy watching Chelsea park the bus at Nou Camp and steal a 1-0 win against Barcelona. I admire John Terry as a footballer and a leader, and that doesn't mean I appreciate what he did to Wayne Bridge (or what he did to his girlfriend, to be precise). I appreciate certain aspects of Hinduism, and that doesn't mean I'm a follower of everything it says.

You will succeed in picking up the best from your mentor(s) only when you do not attach yourself to their personality, when you do not take them in as a whole, when you do not make it an all or nothing.

True wisdom lies in the parts. And it lies in picking the right parts from various wholes. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Spark and the box



Everyone has a bright idea. An average human being has over a thousand different ideas each day, so it's no surprise if one of those ideas happen to be a bright one. This is the bright idea that might lead to that person doing something big, something meaningful, something that makes a difference.

Ideas are aplenty, bright ideas are aplenty, but what's lacking is the right reaction to the idea being evoked. If I tell you I have an idea that will increase the life span of every human by 2x, you will scoff at me and label me crazy. Instead, if I tell you I have an idea that will increase your fitness levels by 2x, you might lend me half an ear.

It is not enough to have a bright idea. It is necessary that the bright idea lies just outside your proverbial box. Only just. Because if it is too far outside the box, you will think it outlandish and not pay much attention to it. Only if it is just outside will it pique your curiosity enough for you to think a little more about it. And only if you think a little more about it will you decide to do anything about it.

Everyone who creates content, be it movies, books, plays, advertisements, blog posts, understands this. The content they create ought to be just outside the box for their target audience. That's the reason you have an audience for everyone from Chetan Bhagat to Murakami. Each knows to paint their stories just outside the box for their respective audiences.

If the conversations you are having are never falling outside your box, you are destined to not having any bright ideas. Exposure to new content and ideas and conversations is what lets you gradually enlarge your box making it progressively less likely for outlandish ideas to fall just outside your box.

It is not enough if you have the Spark. It can so easily fizzle out if your box is too small. At any given time, if what you're doing is not letting you enlarge your box, you are just another mind for the creatives to monetize. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Looking for the next best thing


It is common to fail at things, be knocked off the path you're taking and have things go way off your original plans. Usually, when that happens, the natural reaction is to look for a way to get back on track, catch up with the plan before the wheels started coming off and led you astray. This was my reaction too.

In recent times, I have made two mistakes that I'm now learning from (hopefully!). One, after being knocked off the path I was taking, I focused on getting back to the way things were thinking that that was a necessity to make further progress. Progress towards what, you ask? I wish I had done that myself. Because, then, I would have realised that the goalposts had shifted. The original path was no longer the optimal path. But, too late.

Two, after being knocked off the original path, I started evaluating new opportunities in comparison with where I was originally headed. Again, the goalposts had shifted. And comparing the new opportunities to what was being pursued before was like comparing apples with oranges. Simply not the same.

Looks like Taoism (my recent fascination) is followed by everything in nature, be it air, water, anything. Hence, they have lasted millions of years, because, whatever is contrary to the Tao does not last long. When it comes to air and water, Taoism is nothing but the search for equilibrium. You displace, heat, cool, change the size of the container, incline of the container, or anything else that comes to your mind and the air and water find a way to hit a natural equilibrium. The Tao way is to be in that state of equilibrium.

Just like air or water that follows the shortest path to equilibrium, irrespective of where it previously came from or what state it was on (or what state it's container was in), I ought to have looked for the next best thing irrespective of what path I was on. Now I know better. Now I know the way of the Tao.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Updating the belief map


We work based on belief systems and world views. Everything we're told, everything we read, everything we watch and everything we encounter is what shapes our belief systems, and that forms the basis for interpreting the things we encounter from then on.

Different people react differently to the same news and the same situations and that is because they have different belief systems with which to interpret the situations.

I like to look at our belief systems as a map, one that is handed down to us by our parents and our teachers. The map was built by them and was valid when they did so. You can think of it as a print out of a Google map of your city that you take today and use twenty years from now. The city has changed a great deal over twenty years (or maybe not, depends on your city).

So, if you're following the twenty year old map, you will likely run into things that are not on the map and find that some of the paths on the map you have no longer exist. At this point, you can either think that the map is right and that you are just not following it right and try different approaches, or you can face the fact that the map is not up to date and make changes in the map to account for the reality you now see. There is also a third option. To stick to only those paths and markers on the map that are still true and ignore the rest.

The belief map is just an example. It is true of any map you might be following. Except for Google Maps (perhaps not even that), you are unlikely to have an up to date map with directions for what you need to do to get to where you think you want (your goals).

Remember that where you think you want to get to (your goals) maybe based on an outdated map. Following a map is not about following the most optimal way to your destination. It is about updating the map when you encounter things that aren't on yours and then passing it on to others. That is how a culture grows.

Dedicated to the numerous bans we are witnessing in India in the name of religion and culture. Education (knowledge, not literacy) liberates us all and helps us chart our own belief maps. Then we can have liberation from all the bans.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

It is the way of the Tao to stay in an IIT, not to get into one



IIT Roorkee has been in the news recently for expelling 73 students on grounds of poor performance. The Management at the Institute has taken a dig at coaching institutes for helping students prep for entrance exams who can otherwise do little.

I had written back in 2010 about this phenomenon in a different context. Somewhere around the third year of my Engineering was when I embraced the way of the Tao (although I only realised that it is the way of the Tao a month ago) and that was the time I wrote that post about aptitude.

It is interesting how people who do well enough to be in the top one percent of the country in a tough exam then fail to attain a passable grade once they are in. I think it is a clear case of deviating from the way of the Tao.

For those of you who didn't read my introduction to Taoism a couple of weeks ago, the key idea is that expending too much energy will ensure that exhaustion follows and that is not the way of the Tao, and whatever is contrary to the way of the Tao will not last long.

When students end up giving up everything else in their lives to study for an exam to get into an Engineering college, they are clearly expending too much energy and exhaustion follows in the following years.

The Tao way is to only spend as much energy as you generally do and not do anything additional for any event (the entrance exam in this case). It is to change your lifestyle to include whatever you wish to do (which might be to develop interest in learning the things that might help crack the entrance exam). All results are inconsequential as you wouldn't do anything to change the result in the Tao way. You do it because that is your lifestyle.

So, the Tao way is not to get into an IIT, it is to stay in one.