The surprising truth about what motivates us

Daniel Pink has written a book called Drive, in which he outlines some of the factors that motivate people. It is quite an interesting read, and I encourage you to read the entire book.

The 3 key principles he calls out as being true motivators are:

Autonomy: People want to have control over their work.
Mastery: People want to get better at what they do.
Purpose: People want to be part of something that is bigger than they are.

If you don’t have the time, I suggest that you at least watch this phenomenal video from RSAnimate that distills the principles quite succinctly (with voice over from Daniel himself).

The most elegant solutions eliminate variables

It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience.      – Albert Einstein

When I first started learning programming (a very long time ago), I came across an exercise which seems simple enough. If you had three variables – say A, B and C – and you had to interchange the values of A and B, how would you do so? Well, the solution to this is simple – you use the variable C as a temporary store for one of the variables and then interchange the values like such:

  1. C = A
  2. A = B
  3. B = C

Easy enough, right? Simple! But is that the most elegant solution to the problem? Let me frame the problem a little bit differently – what if we had to interchange the values of A and B – but without the luxury of having a third variable (C)? For the sake of argument, let’s just say each variable comes at a cost of $1000 – so I am incentivized to make do with the least number of variables. Now it is a bit more interesting – challenging even. If we give this some thought, the solution we come up with would be:

  1. A = A + B
  2. B = A – B
  3. A = A – B

Go ahead and try that out on a piece of paper with some values for A and B. It is elegant and it is frugal. It eliminates an unnecessary variable. And it works!

Why is this important – or relevant? In our lives and careers we often come across many challenges and problems that need solutions. Often times there are a lot of variables that are unknowns (or uncertain) – and these form the foundation of risk. Risk, if not mitigated, leads to issues – which if not resolved can lead to failed solutions.

The challenge then is to determine how one could approach the problem so that the chance of failure is minimized. Working backwards, one could postulate that, all other things being equal, failure could be minimized by minimizing the number of issues – which could themselves be minimized by mitigating risks appropriately. But the heart – the very root – of the matter is the risk itself – which can be reduced or eliminated by the elimination of as many variables as possible. This may not always be obvious – or easy, as our example illustrates – but we should expect nothing less of the work required to get to an elegant design.

Nothing is devoid of risk. And variables, unknowns and uncertainties will always exist – whether we like it or not. But by devising innovative solutions that eliminate variables, we come to the most elegant approach to solving the problem. And such solutions stand the test of time – because simplicity exudes beauty.

To paraphrase Einstein’s wisdom: Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.

So the next time you design solutions for a problem with many uncertainties, ask yourself what variables can you truly eliminate wile still solving the problem. I assure you the answer will be the most elegant, and the most satisfying.

Shakespeare’s Advice On Entrepreneurship and Seizing Opportunities

To be, or not to be? That is the question –
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And, by opposing, end them?
– Shakespeare (Hamlet – Act 3, Scene1)
As an entrepreneur, this extract from Hamlet’s (oft quoted) soliloquy resonates deeply with me. Whether we chose to address a massive pain that exists, and through innovation and perseverance, solve it comes down to a matter of choice.
Far too many of us (and until last year, I counted myself among this group) choose to work for organizations wherein we may be making a difference, but remain bound by the unjust, and often times ineffective, nature of the work that such endeavor entails. Our fortunes – be they good, bad or indifferent – are tied to the fortunes of the organization and at the mercy of the people who govern it. One’s own passions often times lay discarded on the side of a road that we plod along in the name of making a living.
The choice then is do we make a living or do we make a difference. Do we choose to pursue our passions and create something of enduring value, or do we play a small part in a big machine that may solve problems that don’t resonate with our vision. Do we choose the safe path – or beat our own.
Undoubtedly these are not easy questions to address. Doing what is easy, is easy – it is the path of least resistance. Not rocking the boat, etc. Taking a risk is more difficult. It requires the courage to face your fears – which in the end is your biggest enemy. I do not want to come across as being judging or portray myself, or entrepreneurs in general, as being somehow better. There is nobility in a job – any job – being done well. And for some, that is enough. But I think there is joy – and greatness – in leaving the world in a fundamentally better state because you chose to pursue your passions and make a difference. Or at least trying your hardest to do so. And if you fail in so doing, you will have overcome your fears and learned and progressed as a human being far more than if you had stayed on the well trodden path.
We need to make the most of the opportunities that we have. Having fear prevent us from making the leap – and making a difference – is a cost we can ill afford. To emphasize, I will quote the bard again:
There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
– Shakespeare (Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3)
Think about this for a moment. Internalize it. And then ask yourself the question – am I pursuing my passion and doing meaningful work that helps address my own desires and vision? Am I happy now, or will I be happier if…
Your move.

Hello 2015!

Wow – I had thought that I would be posting my first post of the year within the first week of the year. I guess I need to be more disciplined around writing here…

In any case – I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season and is gearing up for the new year. I started the new year with some work related travel to Shanghai, China. It involved very long hours – and hence I did not have the time to write a post.

I have restrained myself from creating new year’s resolutions this year – I figure it is arbitrary to just start something because a new year has begun. In fact, late last year I started doing a lot of the things that I would have set up as resolutions. Some of these include regular exercise (I broadened my scope from running – to exercise), staying in touch more with family & friends (I now just schedule calls on my calendar), maintaining a journal (see my post about DayOne and DO Journal) and reading more (got myself a new iPad – which should help)…

I am going to work on just organically creating and sticking to new habits – and not beat myself up if I do not achieve all of the goals I set for myself. Keeping at it until it forms a habit is what’s important. Where possible I use technology to help – Lift (or as is its new name – for habits, DayOne and DO Journal for journaling, iSmoothRun to track my runs, MyFitnessPal to track my food habits and so on. I will post more related to these tools and apps in later posts.

What are some of your new year’s resolutions? How are you developing new habits to keep them going?

Goodbye 2014.

This shall be my last post for 2014. I hope you, as I, shall take some time to reflect on the year that has passed (all too quickly it seems). Think about the events that transpired. Relive the joyous highlights and learn from the despondent lowlights.

I have had a very eventful year. My blog does not reflect that – as this habit has been newly formed in the later part of the year – but it has been a doozie as years go. I will share these events – as a narrative – in future blog posts. Just as a teaser – it involves me getting fired from my job. As the adventure that transpired next will attest – that was a happy ending!

I spend this time of the year in deep and critical introspection. What did I do – what could I have done differently? Who were the people who made a difference in my life? What events – good or bad – occurred, and why – and what have they taught me? Where have I come from – and where am I headed? I find that this is a useful exercise in gratitude and self-improvement.

I generally make resolutions, and I will no doubt make some this year. But my resolutions this year will be a little different in light of the year gone by. If you are looking to make resolutions, try to make them specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound (SMART). Here’s some more reading around the science of goal setting.

Everything happens for the best. This may not always be obvious, or apparent, but I have found it to be generally true. If you have had a tough year, I hope you will think about it in this light. If you find yourself in especially dark and trying times, all I can tell you is to be strong – for the tough times do pass – and leave you with an appreciation of a deep inner strength that you never knew you possessed – and the recognition of those that truly love you – for they are the ones that will have stood by you.

I can’t wait to see what 2015 has in store for me. I wish you, dear reader, the very best that life has to offer. Talk soon…

Why Pakistan’s response to the Peshawar tragedy is questionable

I have commented before on this tragedy. As the world mourned the loss of 132 children in a school shooting by the Pakistani Taliban group, there was unanimous demand for swift justice. Pakistani officials announced that they were lifting the moratorium on capital punishment for terrorists indicating that hundreds of terrorists would be executed. However, we then heard of the news that the chief accused in the Mumbai terror attacks, Zaki ur Rehman Lakhvi (a member of the terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba), was released on bail. This seems to be in direct contrast to their proclaimed fight against terrorism.

A friend of mine forwarded me this point of view in which C. Christine Fair provides insight into the contributing factors for the tragedy, why Pakistan’s sound bytes are in direct contrast to their actions and why this may be a tough issue to resolve. What are your thoughts on this?

A heartbreaking tragedy in Pakistan

The smallest coffins are the heaviest.

Today I checked my daily email from FT and came across the shooting that occurred in a Pakistani school where 141 people – including 132 children – were killed by Taliban terrorists.

I feel devastated by this. To imagine that these kids left home today after praying for success in their exams, and being wished well for it by their families and then through unseen turn of events being killed senselessly by terrorists for no apparent reason is heartbreaking to say the least. It is hard to imagine that there is any reasonable cause for such an action. If these actions were committed in the name of religion, then I would struggle to believe that any religion permits or looks favorably on the murder of innocents. Political motives make no sense when it comes to the mass murder of children who weren’t even yet of voting age. This was incomprehensible in every way.

I cannot imagine the loss and the pain being experienced by the families that lost near and dear ones. I can’t put myself in their shoes – to do so would mean imagining this happening to me. And I don’t know what I would do if something like this happened to my children or loved ones.

Pakistan – and the world at large – need to now go about mourning this event and picking themselves up from this tragedy – no matter how hard that may seem. And then they need to pursue these terrorists to the ends of the earth and purge them. This will, I am certain, provide no solace to those that have suffered loss – but will hopefully prevent more of such insane acts in the future.

You may fall on the pacifist side of this argument, and quote that an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind. I would urge you to really put yourself in the place of the parents that lost children – imagine for a moment if this were your only child. Would you still say that it is OK to not pursue the organization that perpetrated this crime and eliminate them? Not because it would fill the hole where your heart used to be – but to prevent a hole in another parent’s heart. What argument would you have if such a heinous crime were to recur – but only because swift and lethal action were deferred in lieu of humane treatment of the animals that inflicted this horror? What if the next time, it were one of your own?

No one deserves the pain these families are going through. And those children did not deserve to die. The people behind the act, however, surely do.

Today I am heartbroken. My – and indeed the world’s – thoughts and prayers are with the families of those departed.

My DayOne journal journey

All problems reside in your mind. No sooner do you write them down on paper than most of them dissolve. – Sirshree

Much has been written about the benefits of writing a journal and why one should write a journal. A lot of people maintain a diary, and we can of course draw inspiration from the musings of famous writers about keeping a diary.

I never really kept a journal or wrote in a diary. I always feel that one should write when the feeling comes upon them – and carrying around a physical diary and a pen seemed onerous. I realized that if I were to do so, it would have to be electronic – and always available – so I could access it and jot my thoughts. To me – this necessitated this being a very electronic activity. One that I could accomplish predominantly using my mobile phone (an iPhone) and occasionally using my laptop. So I looked up journaling apps and the one that really caught my fancy was DayOne.

A couple of months ago, the DayOne app went free as part of the iTunes free app of the week program and I jumped on that opportunity to download the app.

Since then I have been using the app. Sporadically at best, but nonetheless something that I did from time to time. I have only recently started getting more regular about it. One of the things that has helped me get regular at it has been the Lift app – which helps form habits. I use Lift to help me develop habits – from exercising to meditation to – now – journaling.

I started by simply using the tool to quickly jot down the activities or events for the day. Occasionally I took a picture that I could embed in my journal. But nothing deep – nothing that documented my thoughts or feelings about anything.

Recently however, I am using the tool a bit differently. I am using it to document my thoughts – shallow or deep – and my feelings about things. Since I keep my journal private, I am allowing myself the liberty of documenting strengths, weaknesses, gratitude, frustrations and fears. To embrace vulnerability. As I write my thoughts – and especially my fears and frustrations – I try to be reflective of what I should be doing, or could be doing to address them. How I could be a better person. If nothing else, it brings these thoughts to the fore and documents them for future reference. And hopefully, by documenting my fears and frustrations, I will have taken the first step towards actually overcoming them. By writing about my hopes and appreciation, I will have put in motion an amplifying effect that allows me to achieve more, feel more, become better.

Since the DayOne app lets me, I do assign tags to each entry – and where possible I attach pictures. I find that it helps keep the journal interesting. And I think it would be a blast to revisit the journal a few years from now and see those things that I was thinking of or doing in a visual timeline. The app also logs my location – and this is useful since I can write about my travels, and have the tool take care of the physical location tags. The app is also great because it also tags what music I am listening to when I am writing in my journal (something I only found out recently), the current weather and temperature as well as any activity I may be undertaking at the time (hiking, walking, etc). The beauty of it is that it logs a lot of this information for me – so I don’t have to. And I think it will create a log that is the richer for it.

I am now using Life Journal – a beautiful and intuitive journaling / electronic diary application for Windows that can also act as a desktop PC front end for Day One.

I hope to make this into a lifelong habit – and will write more as my habit matures, and the things that I journal about change over time. I would love to hear if you journal, what you write about – and how has it helped you.

My thoughts on the Serial Podcast and how it should conclude shouldn’t shock you

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards Justice. – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I am a HUGE fan of the Serial Podcast – an investigative journalism tour de force by Sarah Koenig wherein she explores a true story to (what I am hoping is) its logical conclusion. In the first season of Serial, Sarah takes on the case of Adnan Syed who was sentenced to life in prison on charges of murdering his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee.

I’d be somewhat surprised if you have not heard of this podcast. It is a top ranking podcast on iTunes – and has developed somewhat of a fanatical fan base and following. In fact I saw a podcast on iTunes that is a podcast about the Serial podcast (wherein a bunch of fans sit around and air their thoughts about Serial) – I tuned out. If you have not heard it yet, I would highly encourage you to do so. If you DO listen to Serial, and are a fan, I would urge you to donate to keep Serial going.

I heard today (what was mentioned in the chapter that came out yesterday) the penultimate chapter of this season. And therein the promise that this will be over in the next chapter. I can’t wait to find out what happens.

Here’s what I think: there is enough reasonable doubt there – based on everything we have heard so far – to conclude that Adnan should not have been incarcerated. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum of opinions – and I know you have one – it is clear to me from the way the information has been presented in the podcast that there were many holes in the prosecution’s case.

I think that the conclusion will likely have some action whereby Adnan gets released from prison. At least I hope he does. He does not come across as someone who would have committed the murder – from the profile of him presented by the many folks who come in and out of the podcast’s narrative. There are also events that occur in the case where it seems logistically impossible for him to have done it. And he has firmly stuck to his position of not being guilty of the crime.

He seems to be very level-headed in his interactions with Sarah during the serial – and focused to a fault to present the facts and his view-point of the events. He seems to have had a lot of time to think about it – and indeed reflect on what it means to be characterized as a murderer by friends and people in his community. He has had to live with the thoughts about what this has done to his family. I think 15 years of prison time – for a crime he probably did not commit is enough – don’t you? Imagine for a second that he is indeed innocent and put yourself in his place – how would you deal with that? With the knowledge that you were unjustly imprisoned for a crime you did not commit. Yeah.

In a way – the millions of people who have been listening to the podcast have a juror’s view of the case. A lot of information has been covered, a lot of character profiles have been put forth and holes in the prosecution’s case have been laid bare. As a juror would you say – again, beyond a reasonable doubt – that Adnan murdered Hae Min Lee? I honestly couldn’t. Not beyond a reasonable doubt. I believe that we have just been through a very public re-hearing of the case (albeit in a most engaging manner that is nothing like the tedium of being an actual juror in a court case) and if the overwhelming majority of the population (jury?) feels the way I feel, we have to come back with a verdict of Not Guilty (with apologies for time served?) and give Adnan the opportunity to re-assimilate back into public life.

Like I said – my thoughts on this case probably didn’t surprise you. And if I was right about that, you likewise feel the way I do. In any case, I can’t wait to see how justice prevails in the conclusion next week.

Mera Mann: Another lovely song

Here’s a song I came across on Spotify – from the oddly named movie 7 Welcome to London. What I love about this song is the strong vocals, the beautiful melody and the simplicity of the accompanying music – which really let the vocals and the song shine through. I hope you enjoy…