All posts by hantan

The bridge connecting actual and imagined intelligence

Everyone is much more intelligent than they imagine themselves to be. That is a fact. But must also be said that not everyone achieve the levels of intelligence that their imagination tells them to be. There is a big gap between perceived/imagined levels of intelligence and actual levels. What gave rise to the perceptions in the first place? Those little flashes of brilliance that you display on occasions. Let me elaborate on this a bit. Lets take Joey from Friends as a case study here. You must know the sitcom Friends, right? If not, you would be missing on an awfully huge dose of laughter in your life.

Joey is considered to be the dumbest guy in the group. For a guy who comes across as the dumbest, he has some spectacular scenes where he comes across as the most intelligent person in the group. One of those scenes, he corrects Ross, the supposed grammar nazi of the group.

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You can find the rest of his awesomeness here. Point is, even if everyone considers you dumb, you can still see yourself being the most intelligent guy in the group on many occasions. Extend this to other things and you will find yourself exploring unlimited possibilities. At work, you might not be the best person in the team, but you have the potential. You might not be the best person in the band, but you do have that voice that can make you the lead singer. You might not be a match winner in your cricket team, but you know you do have the potential to become one some day.

The bridge that can cover this gap is a very simple one to build. Joey attempts at chipping in with meaningful conversations by reading up the encyclopedia. Suddenly he becomes the smartest person in the world in everything “V”. How does he do that? He takes an effort in becoming good at what he isn’t. The secret to achieving your perceived level of intelligence is to put in that little effort. The problem is that we get bored of putting an effort on something all the time. Making it interesting will make that effort sustained for a slightly longer period of time than necessary. Soon, you will get tired of what was once interesting to you. The simple solution is to make it a habit. You are not bored of brushing your teeth every morning. Nor are you bored of taking a bath before going to work. Introspect a bit and you will find that habits don’t bore you. Make it a habit to put a small effort everyday in making yourself better and you will soon achieve greatness in whatever you want.

I ain’t promising you overnight success. But this one little tweak in your life will guarantee you success one day. The quantum of effort shouldn’t be too high to deter it from becoming a habit or too low to see a “1++” improvement from the previous day. To put it simply, identify the area of improvement, put in an effort to get that 1++ improvement and finally repeat the process to make it a habit. And voila, you have your little hack to achieve the imagined level of your intelligence. Its only your imagination that is going to limit you!

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Acceptance of the unknown!

“I just said to Matt [Damon], ‘Losing would suck and winning would be really scary.’ And it’s really, really scary.”

That was Ben Affleck on his acceptance speech on receiving the Best Original screenplay award for Good Will Hunting. Those were exactly my thoughts a few months back on getting married. The sense of responsibility, the commitment, the whole bunch of duties that come along with an Indian wedding is just too much that it seems daunting. I guess, one cannot be prepared for the eventualities even if they knew about it. Yet you make that jump sooner or later in life, cos it doesn’t matter how scared you are. The other person is just as scared as you, probably even more.

These few months into the relationship have taught me many things. It feels like i rediscovered a part of myself. It also felt like i have lost a part of me, but that’s a good thing i guess. But in today’s post, i would like mention about one small thing – “acceptance” (now you see why i started with an acceptance speech? <wink>). There are a lot of things you realize in a marriage – the person you thought was your soul-mate actually has different desires and principles in comparison to you. A lot of small small silly willy fights are part and parcel of life. But little little negativeness has the tendency to snowball into a massive one if they are not kept in check.

So how do you keep them in check? Acceptance. Let me illustrate with a silly incident. You and your girl decide that you are hungry and you would like to have something. You love pani puri and she hates it(girls hate pani puri? like seriously?). You crave for it but she won’t be able to share the pleasure cos she is predisposed to hating street junk food. While pani puri doesn’t fall into that category (according to you) you cannot convince her of otherwise. So what do you do? you accept the situation as it is and try to make the best out of it. Get her to make a fruit salad, cos she loves fruits and you do not have any sorta aversion to it. Make a note in the back of your mind to grab a pani puri later. Problem solved. <Note to Nanditha, any resemblance to people living or dead is completely coincidental and the above example is purely my imagination and not a reference to any past occasion or otherwise>

JK Rowling says that understanding is the first step to acceptance. Well, she is a girl, she can get away with whatever she says. When it comes to guys, in many a case they fail to understand what they consider the focal point of their lives – girls. Understanding is so overrated. Acceptance can happen without understanding, as any happily married man will tell you. What else is maturity but the acceptance of the unknown! Accept things as they are, cos you do not get to even have a crack at the solution till you have accepted that the problem exists.

Once you accept the problem or issue at a conscious level, you are free to look for solutions. You see that petty things like irritation and anger seem to die a quick painless death once you have learned to accept things. You will come to the point where you realize that the person you are getting angry with is worth far more than your anger itself. Your focus should be on leading a happy life, not the fact that you got angry or pissed over an unforeseen incident. At times display of anger may just be a sign of attention seeking. But you are just human and attention is your dope. Just don’t get addicted to it. As i write this, i feel like its my conscious speaking to me. I only wish i listened to it a little more. acceptance

Those Little Wins

Life is a series of ups and downs, successes and failures, heart throbs and heart breaks & hits and misses. We are elated when we are joyful and depressed when we are sad. But somehow, it is those times that we are down that we tend to remember the most. When we are down, we seem to find more and more problems around us. Beyond a point, this downward mood swing becomes unbearable. Why is that so? Why is it easy to become happy but very difficult to come out of depression? Why do we remember the bad things more instead of counting our blessings?

Don’t worry, you are not to blame. The monkey in your head is the culprit. Meet Mr Monkey, the little guy who helps govern your brain. You would’ve encountered him in your life – remember those animal instincts you had? It wasn’t you, it was this monkey saving your ass back then. You were just a dumb human. One of my favorite bloggers says that a relative of this monkey is the one behind procrastination as well, but that’s another post.

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This monkey has a heightened sensitivity towards unpleasant stuff. And when you are a highly sensitive person, this reaction by this monkey to negative stimuli is even higher. This is called the “negative bias” of the brain. Monkey was an ancestor of ours. As we evolved, this monkey’s survival depended upon avoiding danger. Hence the brain is wired up in such a way that it responds to negative stimuli better than positive ones. So what can we do about this? We cannot change the way we are wired. How the heck are we going to control an invisible monkey? At the same time we do not want to end up in a depressed state all the time as well.

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Now that you have agreed that the monkey is to blame, how do you make this information to your advantage? Monkeys love fruits. Kick these monkeys in their asses and point them towards the low hanging fruits in the tree. They will go and get it. The key to overcoming the negative bias is by grabbing the low hanging fruits that come your way. It is by getting those small wins in your day today life. People say that success is a habit. What they actually mean is that success is a series of small wins. A negative bias towards life makes us focus on the bad stuff more than the good ones. The only way out of it is to grab those small wins.

Exercised today? You became a tad more healthy. A small win right there. Solved a puzzle? You worked your brain muscles. Another small win right there. Completed a trivial task that was pending for a long time? A small win, yet a much needed one. Wrote a blog? You took time out of your schedule to indulge on your hobbies. This blog post for me is a small win too. The thing about these small wins is that they are easy to come by. So once the monkey grabs these low hanging fruits, dopamine gets secreted in your brain. It spurs you ahead, to take on the more difficult tasks of the day. The monkey can climb higher and higher and grab the harder fruits. Wins are addictive, just like depressing stuff are addictive as well, but in a more positive way. One win leads you to another. Success begets success. Your friends start rooting for you. Your family starts becoming supportive. The entire world conspires to make your dream come true. And that’s how you win. May the force be with you.

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Revenge of the Brick and Mortar Stores: Omni-Channel Retailing

In this ever evolving world of supply chain every new initiative offers the promise of a better tomorrow. The only problem is that this tomorrow comes a tad too soon and quickly drops out of public memory. Terms like XML, CPFR and other such hyped initiatives have become so commonplace that they are now relegated to the supply chain history text books. One such term that is currently making waves alongside the elephants (Hadoop) and monsters (Big Data) is the Omni-Channel Retailing. Haven’t heard of it yet? Kind of rings a bell but the meaning doesn’t quite cut it? Yes i had that same feel as well when i heard the term for the first time. Omni-channel retailing is the next step in the evolution of multi-channel retailing. It refers to providing the consumer a seamless experience across all available channels.

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But why this omni-channel retailing for the regular consumer? Is this a real thing or just another ethereal concept that consultants spew to make companies invest in new technology? What has changed? The answer is you have changed. The way you have shopped has changed. The way you decide what to buy has changed. The way companies influence your purchase decisions have changed. And chances are, that you are COMPLETELY unaware of this. Time to look into the mirror and find a new “You” – the omni-channel consumer. And for you, companies have to adapt and move towards Omni-Channel retailing. The omni-channel consumer wants a seamless and continuous shopping experience, not a fragmented one. According to the paper “Beyond the Checkout Cart” from MIT, 80% of the consumers check prices online. The sales value proceeding from online influence has touched the trillion mark as well – $1.1 trillion store sales were influenced by the web.

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A few years back, brick and mortar stores were seriously threatened by the rise of ecommerce websites like Amazon.com and others. One such store was Best Buy, one of the world’s largest electronic retailers. They lost $1.2 billion during 2012 and their competitor Circuit City had filed for bankruptcy four years back. Best Buy was facing an acute problem called “showrooming” – the practice of examining merchandise in a traditional brick and mortar retail store without purchasing it, but then shopping online to find a lower price for the same item. Online stores often offer lower prices than their brick and mortar counterparts, because they do not have the same overhead cost. Admit it, you have done that quite a few times as well, haven’t you? Coming back to Best Buy, this huge losses caused quite a stir with the then CEO resigning. Its new CEO Hubert Joly came in late 2012, cut a few corners, sold off his European business and decided to pursue this strategy called omni-channel retailing.

Omnichannel strategy focused by Best buy targeted at reaching the customer wherever they are – store, online, mobile. They added this option called “Store pickup” – customers liked to pay online but preferred to pick up the product from the store. This small tweak enabled it to convert its weakness – the store – into a strength. Customers who never had such an option before were given the freedom to get exactly what they want. It turned its stores into distribution centers. The customers started experiencing a seamless shopping experience that is rarely offered by other major stores.

What does this mean to us? The major drawback of ecommerce websites was that they didn’t allow customers to touch and feel the products. Through omni-channel retailing, the brick and mortar stores are getting back into the game offering this crucial piece that was missing in the puzzle. While the Walmarts will forever be dwarfed by the Amazons in the virtual world, they still have more meat and muscle in the real world to offer and will be able to hit the online giants at places where they defend. Walmart even allows customers to pick the stuff from the store thereby saving on shipping fees. Whatever virtual experiences come your way, they simply cannot match the ones provided in-store. Only Oculus Rift can change that.

On Being a Design Thinker – Part 3

The first two steps to the Design Thinking process that i elicited earlier can be summed up in one word: Empathize! When you define and try to understand the problem statement, you try to get into the mind of your customer – the one whose problem you intend to solve. Since I am trying to solve my own problem, it might seem that i do not have to do that much to really understand what my problem is – i already know. But this process helps one to step outside my shoes, see others who are going through similar problems and try understanding if the root cause of their problems are similar to ours. To be frank, one loves to solve others’ problems more than his own.

Point of Views

Now that you have empathized with my problem, i believe you would want to take the next step in the journey as well. This brings us to the next step, which is to create a Point of View. The first step towards creating the PoV is to create the persona. A persona is basic description of the customer. If you were to define your customer in a single line with as few attributes as possible, then that is your persona. This constraints us to identify what is most important for the customer in relation to the problem at hand and helps us zero in on the root cause as well. In my case, I am the customer and I will show you a persona of myself.

ImageNow we have a single liner about me that tells me who I am. It would help if you can draw the image yourself – would make the exercise more fun. In sticking to my lazy persona, i simply cartoonized myself using tools available online!

A Point of View you create should follow a template:PoV

The first one identifies the user/customer (me in this case), then goes on to identify the Needs that need to be solved (this would be something that has come up during the Define and Understand phase, and may or may not be something totally obvious). you then show why the need arose/must be met and this would be because of an insight you gained during the define and understand phase.

The Point of View in my case would go something like this:

Anantha Shankar needs to change the way he converts ideas to actions because his existing methods aren’t giving him enough dope to sustain the initial high.

This is the Point of View i would be using for the subsequent stages of the Design Thinking phase.

Ideate

Now is where i would be using all those post-it notes to jot down the ideas i have. Since i do not want to waste paper (and by extension, the post-it notes, I will use my personal Trello account as a whiteboard. So here are a few thoughts that had come up that seems to make sense. So here is a snapshot of the ideation stage. I will come back to this board and add more.

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I will explain steps Prototype and Test in the next post. Till then, have fun thinking 🙂

The Girl

She had skin soft as velvet. Her lips were shaped like Cupid’s bow. As I mushed her hair, she smiled the softest of smiles, while she was lost in her own world. While she slept, she reminded me of Aurora, the sleeping beauty from a fairy tale heard in a time that is now a distant memory. When awake, her  eyes were fixed on me, such big an beautiful eyes, as if asking me “Do you think am pretty? Am i beautiful?” I tell her, she is so beautiful that it gives me ecstasy and pain at the same time. Its should be criminal to be deemed that she was so beautiful. My heart trembled whenever i held her in my hands, yet she said my skinny arms were strong enough for her. How can something be so beautiful and yet so fragile, i wonder. Like a butterfly, she sets my heart afire. She makes me feel fiercely protective and want to fiercely pamper her at the same time. I want my arms to be so strong that i can defend her from all the evil bastards yet so soft that my touch on her cheek should not hurt her. This moment wont last her, but as long as i have her in my arms, i can feel time freeze, a moment captured in eternity. This kid may cry for no reason, but all you want to do is to pamper her, to feed her, to cajole her, to make her smile. For that smile shall set your heart on fire. That smile will make butterflies flutter in your stomach. Can there be a greater happiness than making a girl smile?

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If at all there can be something sweeter than sugar, naughty as spice, and embodies everything nice, it must be her! When she is angry, you only wanna be sorry. When she is happy, you only wanna bask in her glory. You wanna lift her, high above your head and twist, just to make her smile, throw her up and catch her in mid-air. She is the best thing that will happen to you, that will ever happen to you. She is an addiction you can never recover from, a high that will wanna make you dance with her in a trance.

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But where is she? She is murdered while she is in the womb. She is underfed and dies before she could reach her naughty twos. She is raped, if not literally, but with lusty eyes that lie all around. It doesnt matter if she is a grown up girl, even if she is a kid she will be abused. One in every ten has been brave enough to report it. Many do not. She is dying, bit by bit and you are killing her. Not literally, but by turning a blind eye to her sufferings. To the atrocities. That ultrasound kills her even before she can feel life. Even before she can breathe.

As a country, we have progressed amazingly, despite our governments. But this bias towards the girl child, is still ripe, like in the good ol’ days. Hitler committed a terrible crime by sponsoring the Jewish genocide. But some Indian parents go one step further and kill the unborn girl child while it is still in the womb. And the entire family appreciates such a decision. These days, it has been deemed a crime, so it is all hush-hush. No one wants to speak about the elephant in the room. We are among the top 5 countries to be considered most dangerous for women. 

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One in every two girls is malnourished. A whopping 750,000 girls are killed every year – foeticide or infanticide or malnourishment. Maharashtra, Haryana, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Punjab, the advanced states are the ones where such things are statistically high. The other states are no better – it is just that statistics are hard to come by there. 

So how do we stop this? by taking to streets when the next Nirbhaya happens? No, it starts with a fundamental change in your attitude. Stop being a chauvinistic pig. Stop expecting a woman to be your servant. She is your equal. Dowry is a crime! Oh yeah, we do not ask for dowry. We simply ask the girl’s family to take care of the wedding expenses. And you want a grand wedding. In some parts, a marriage would cost anywhere between 50L to 1C. Maybe more. And no, these aren’t any HNI kid’s weddings. It is a typical middle class wedding. Be a man, have the balls to stand up and stop such financial torture. Start loving the girl child. Be a lover of beauty. Your girlfriend/wife is a work of art – relish her. Oh yeah, we all know how unmanageable she is and have laughed all those jokes. But be aware of the difference between a joke and taking a joke too far. stereotypes aren’t always true, mind you. But then, just forget everything and love her. Just love her. that is enough. She will make you proud!

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Today the 24th of January has been declared as the National girl child day. And this post is a tribute to the girl child! Save the girl child