Hope

It’s Lohri, the punjabi harvest festival that signifies the start of a new year. While i had been meaning to plug back in to the blog at the start of this calendar year, its simply been harder to do than just think off. Procrastination has got the better half of me, unfortunately.

So when i stumbled on this post mentioning image search, it seemed like a good time to begin again. I googled for inspiration – something that i have been looking for lately. This one seemed to fit the bill. May be all that’s required is a fresh perspective with a focused approach to get back in action. Here’s to the new year!

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Clean up act

It’s that time of the year, where most people here in India begin an extensive cleaning exercise for the big festival – Diwali. Home improvement, fixing the furniture, getting the walls done to much simpler things like throwing away unused items are on the to-do list. I decided to start a bit earlier than usual, considering its our first Diwali after getting married. As i dusted and picked up random receipts, card statements, brochures and bills i could retrace some wise and a few unwise buying decisions. While most of the stuff we had stashed away wasn’t of any utilitarian value, I had to keep some of it because of sentimental connect. Somehow there is always an emotional connect to inanimate things like books etc.

With every irrelevant and broken item i put away, i felt much better. It got me thinking to how much we accumulate over days, weeks and months without actually realizing the burden we are creating for ourselves. The burden, if that’s what we choose to call it for now – can be physical, emotional or materialistic. But no matter what, its important to pause and reflect. The cleaning bit is always a good way to let it off.

Another aspect that came to my mind about cleaning up centered on how a major cleaning of the mindset is required. In the past few weeks several stories have done the rounds on social media. First there were photo leaks due to a icloud hack, then Emma Watson got threatened after her UN speech and a powerful media house took on a popular actress. In most cases, women were objectified and blamed that they were asking for it. While the explanations defeat logic, all of this has left a lot of tongues wagging. Sure we are talking about gender equality, women empowerment and work place equality. But what would it take for us to break out of the regressive mindset? Some men would be intimidating the wife at home, getting intimidated by the female boss at work and end up going for the latest movie released to go watch some lead actress being objectified over celluloid. I cannot even begin to connect the dots and put all of it in perspective. All i know is that a major cleaning of the mindset is required. It’s not going to be easy. But given the number of decades and generations we’ve spent discussing, its most required now.

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Perseverance – Never say die

Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did. – Newt Gingrich

Many a times I wonder about how long can one keep going at a particular task / situation / person in life. Let’s face it when we start off with anything new in life, everything seems achievable. Doable to state the least. Think about that new project you got, the first year at college or even the first day at work. We feel really empowered to take on things and prove ourselves.

However when time passes by and the ground realities begin to show up, we need a lot more to keep going. Motivation at times will help in the short term but what is required is perseverance. It doesn’t come easy. An example that a lot of girls can relate to is dieting. We start off with a set of goals and convince ourself that we will turn this around this time. For me, a few days in to a diet I fell ill and that was my undoing. That’s a really simple example. There are more complex areas we deal with regularly. The most important being people. I’m sure we all have one person amongst family / friends who may be extremely negative or difficult to deal with. While others may have the patience, I find it really hard to push myself with someone like that. Sometimes I fail and at times a win doesn’t seem like it.

The point is I never give up. I don’t let the situation get the better part of me. At the end of the day I think that is the key that keeps me going. Self motivation works better than any other method. Somewhere the quote kind of resonated with what I feel. When I feel that the real hard work is done, that’s when the game has just begun and it’s perseverance that will keep me going!

Misfits Galore

No matter what walk of life, you will come across the square pegs being fitted in to a round hole. Or vice-verse. Reading a recent article i wondered how we try to be a part of a group through school /college and so on. At the same time we’re striving for our own individuality. Somehow, we don’t like the extremes. So loners get castaway and the extremely outgoing person is labelled the party animal. There somewhere in the middle is where everyone wants to be. Socially accepted and noted for who they are. But how can you be know for who you are unless you stand out / apart from the crowd? Contradicting isn’t it?

On that note, here is a favorite of mine from Green Day called “Walking Contradiction” that relates to the exact same feeling:

 

Empathy or Sympathy

I remember confusing the two some years back. During a recent situation i began to recollect how people tend to confuse the two. After all to empathize or sympathize for someone going through a tough time is a natural response for many of us. But there is a striking difference in the two states.

In the recent MH 370 flight case, what most of us can do is just sympathize. This is because in order to empathize one should have experienced and gone through the situation. To empathize is to understand precisely what the person is going through since you have been through the exact similar situation. I strongly believe that when we are being sold something with a promise or a warranty especially in case of a service, all the sales person is doing is sympathizing for your current state. Heading for the spa after a hard day, you are more likely to hear, ‘We understand your stress and physical strain and hence do what’s best for you”. Well do they? I have my doubts. At a weight loss clinic, the promising dietitian may not have put herself through years of bland food. All she / he is sharing could very well be textbook knowledge. But doesn’t she speak and empathize when you fall back? She is only sympathizing.

This brings me to larger issues we face in life, at work or in crucial stages. We are more likely to say that we empathize but we wouldn’t have really gone down the same road as others to do so. Hence i think more often than not we are only sympathizing. Empathy is also used in a more personal context whereas you could sympathize with anyone from your neighbors to co-workers. I leave you with this quote to mull over this for longer:

“Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection – or compassionate action.”
Daniel Goleman 

Change

Glancing at my debit card, i began to take notice of my photo on the card. The photo was taken nearly 6 years back. A volley of thoughts began to run through my head. One of the most prominent one being that if i were to go back in time, what would i tell myself. What would be the advise i have in store? Would i look back and change anything? There would be a lot, i could try to do better. Maybe prudence would have helped me at some stages.

But then, i reckoned that no matter what i had in mind, life would have taken its own course anyways. We go about planning, scheduling and over-thinking simple things in life. Only to make them more complicated. Maybe the key is to focus on the journey. We get so clouded by our own set of aspirations that we focus on the destination instead.

Change is always in store. Just when you think that you’re in a comfortable zone, there you’re going to get a jolt. Overtime, we are mended and bent over by consistent bickering like stones that turn to pebbles along the course of a river. But, the important part is that its always going to be for the good. As Andy Warhol said:

“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” 

 

Blend in or stand out?

Individuality. The one notion that drives us all. I’m sure most of us don’t want to be versions of others and strive to be unique. However there are times, when one begins to wonder if they would be the thorn in the situation or blend in like the petals around a flower. Be the rock in the river or ride along the waves.

Reading a recent WSJ article on Success outside the dress code made me wonder the same. Dressing up is what we think defines us. Afterall, we normally begin sizing up people, opportunities or situations more often than not. Getting in to a client meeting? They will be building their first impressions. In today’s always online world, they have to put in minimal effort by just checking out your linkedin profile. If they are lucky, you’re on twitter too to feed their inquisitive needs.

The point really is then should you be guided by the notions that others seem to have of you or drive your own instead. The article refers to accomplished people walking in to luxury stores in their gym clothes. If people there recognize you as a part of the elite who have accomplished something, then you would be looked up to. Heaven’s forbid, if you aren’t from that set then you would be most likely tagged as a wannabe. I think the context also depends which part of the world you are from. For example, in India at a luxury store let’s just take any of the premium stores at Palladium in Phoenix, Lower Parel in Mumbai. Most of the people are pretty dressed up but if anyone with ordinary clothing walks up asking for details in a regional language, chances are they will be taken as novices. Or as many people say, “Maybe they got rich too quick”. The same idea doesn’t hold true. In the corporate culture too, you would rather be well dressed for that meeting than be dismissed on the first look. Of course, that can be taken lightly if one works in the creative side of things.

But my question really is whether one must blend in or stand out? Standing out, playing the devil’s advocate as the article suggests would be something that would go noticed. I think people would remember the person who made the most daring points, but that also depends on how dismissive they can be. Blending in works well for most of us. However, being original and driving the point across – that’s what we need to see more of. The change is already happening across B-Schools, where more recent graduates are opting to take their own route with start-ups. We will see more of this in coming years and it would be interesting to see where this heads out too. For now, standing out is the one thing that seems to be “In”.

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Box Of Secrets

Talking in your sleep? Chances are you wouldn’t know what you said but someone else will. There are many situations that we come across where we subconsciously start picking up random conversations around us and put these in context. Here are some of the ones i picked up recently:

Water Cooler Moment

“Did you hear? He got the promotion.”

“Is that so? He didn’t deserve it. Skills come before experience? I didn’t expect it to be like this. Times are changing.”

Random Bus Ride Secrets

“I think he likes me. Did you see the way he kept staring at me that day?”

“That’s not good you know. Back off, cause i heard he is going out with Tina. You don’t want to be the other woman.”

Multiplex Confessions

“I know how this will end.”

“You are so going to have hell to pay if you spoil this for me.”

Restaurant Client Meeting

“Lets see, i think we are going to close on that client soon. The meeting went well.”

“Even if it doesn’t, i know someone who can help us get the upper hand over those other clowns. This new guy in their team knows nothing practically.”

These were some of the recent ones i came overheard. Since i knew none of the people and i’m sure they didn’t know me, no love lost.

Facing The Music

Against all odds. That’s what first came to my mind when i had to get down to implementing a lot of things some years back at work. However, it’s just the approach that needs to be changed. Instead of all the odds, i began to think of all the opportunities that i could be on. That minor change in perspective made me believe in pushing myself against all boundaries.

So a deliverable at 7 AM? No problem.

4 hour commute. Can be managed.

Can you work on this aspect (something i’ve never heard of). Sure. {Factor in late nights spent awake in reading about how it really works}

Ad-hoc meeting, I just have to pull you in to this one. Sure, you can count on me.

Among many other such situations, i reveled in the pressure. After all, what is a day worth when you don’t learn something new? I’ve learnt to read up more than my clients do, understand more than the intern can throw at me and deliver more than i possibly could imagine. It’s said that we overestimate ourselves in the short run and underestimate in the long run. In my case, i would say overestimating actually helped me in accomplishing more than i thought was possible. Against all odds, it may have seemed to others. But to me, they were in my favor. Facing the music as many would think. In my head, i was loving the music and finding meaning in the rhythm. Isn’t life itself like that? I sure do believe it is!

 

Why are tech firms buying out smaller start-ups?

Consolidation in the technology space. It’s happening. Much has been said, heard and analysed when it comes to the recent Whatsapp acquisition by Facebook. Valuations were being tossed around and here’s an interesting graphic on whether it was worth $19 billion to start with. That being said, i’m looking at bigger forces at play in the technology space. As textbook economics will tell you, consolidation is a phase that kicks in mature markets when the big players begin to swallow the smaller and more active ones up.

Acquisitions have been happening for quite sometime now. But some of the interesting one’s in recent times have been Google buying Motorola and then selling it off to Lenovo. Microsoft buying out Nokia and they did give in to market pressures by releasing an Android phone just yesterday at the Mobile World Congress’14. Microsoft also bought Skype nearly a year back and killed its own messenger. Software firms have been increasingly snapping up hardware companies. It’s clearly about building capabilities to have more integrated software and hardware. Apple has been doing this for decades with a very closely knit user interface that has been winning customers over for years. Pretty much like them, the other companies are also trying to tightly integrate services to have the customers locked in for longer period of time. Look at Google, that is trying to foray in to nearly every possible nook of our life as it builds its inventory for the internet of things. You’re using maps, gmail, search and docs for starters. As any marketeer will tell you, its always cheaper to retain customers than to go out and acquire new ones.

Here’s a drill-down of what i think about the entire consolidation bit:

1. Customer stickiness: Companies want customers to buy a product and integrate it so tightly that they are unable to breakout.

2. Eat the competition: As start-ups have more breathing room and flexibility for innovation, let them build great products as the big cats will swallow them up to eventually kill the competition if any.

3. M&A industry: Who else is laughing all the way to the bank? Consulting firms. In fact software acquisitions made up nearly half of the deal value in this space as per PwC.

4. Increasing usage: Big tech players are always looking for means to increase usage and as Metcalf’s law says, the value of any network lies in the number of connected users on it. Hence you see why software services have been aggressively merging or finding new ways of driving usage for their platforms.

5. Start-ups don’t always need an IPO: It’s increasingly difficult for a small company to go public and put itself under the scanner. Investors and analysts will slice and dice not only excel spreadsheets but also any single move that key people make. By cashing out and selling themselves to a larger firm, they can avoid all the pain. All of this when they might have not even achieved the vision they started out with.

6. Hide failures better: The chances of a start-up making it big are rather slim. In fact, the odds seem to be against them. Once they have generated enough buzz and got a fancy valuation. The small fish can then afford to dissolve in the system and chances are if they were going to fail, little would anyone get to know about it.

With all of this in place, we can only hope for better products and services. While some of these partnerships may have benefited the firms, what remains to be seen is how innovative they can really get. For now, the entire space has become a playground for many small firms to pitch their products and see how quickly they can go to market or gain more funding. At the end, the customer stands to benefit the most from this!

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*Image source: Flickr (labelled for reuse)