Why am I giving away books?

I am writing this blog after a while. I should get over my laziness and start writing regularly.

I have been giving away books to my friends over a last few years. Why am I distributing books these books?

  • Am I crazy?
  • Do I have an evil plan?

Some of the books I have been giving away are:

    • Meditations, Marcus Aurelius
    • Think on these things, J Krishnamurti
    • Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramhansa Yogananda

Reading is one key habit that I have picked up in the last few years. During tough days these books were my good companion. They helped me calm down and brought me closer to a better life. That is why I distributed copies of these books to many of my friends.

I remember an incident when someone rejected accepting a book. I wanted to thank him for his intermittent fasting podcast.

Some of my friends liked this idea so much that even they have started giving away books to their loved ones.

Should I continue doing this or stop it?

Book Notes: The Little Prince

The book summarizes journey of Little Prince, the interplanetary traveler: his adventure all along the journey. It included meeting inhabitants from other planets and understanding their priorities..”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote this book in french which later got translated to many other languages. It is just of 100 odd pages, one reason why i bought it and finished it in a single sitting. The style of writing made me wonder if the author was interested in  philosophy.

It seemed to me that author was sharing his life memories in the form of Little Prince.

Fun fact: Little Prince owned 2 little volcanoes on his planet and he cleaned its ashes. He also had a flower plant which he took good care of.

I will be distributing a few copies of this book to some of my friends, which also means I enjoyed reading it.  🙂

Some interesting lines, notes from the book :

  • He did not know, how the world is simplified for kings. To them, all men are subjects.
  • It is much more difficult to judge oneself than to judge others. If you succeed in judging yourself rightly, than you are indeed man of true wisdom.
  • Conceited people never hear anything but the praise.
  • For, to conceited men, all other men are admirers.
  • For it is possible for a man to be faithful and lazy at the same time.
  • Intoxicated men see double.
  • When one wishes to play the wit, he sometimes wanders a little from the truth.
  • I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand.
  • One only understands the things that one tames.
  • What is essential is invisible to the eye.
  • It is a good thing to have a friend, even if one is about to die.
  • What is most important is invisible.
  • Men set out their way in express trains, but they do not know what they are looking for. Then they rush about , and get excited, and turn around and around…
  • One runs the risk of weeping a little, if one lets himself be tamed …
  • The thing that is important is the thing that is not seen…
  • “ I know a planet where is a certain red-faced gentleman. He has never smelled a flower. He has never looked at a star. He has never loved any one. He has never done anything in his life but add up figures.  And all day he says over and over, just like you: ‘I am busy with matters of consequence! ‘ And that makes him swell up with pride. But he is not a man – he is mushroom!”

On Money

Study well,

Get a good job,

Earn well,

Settle.

The society created paradox that we ought to follow

  • People complain about their bosses or jobs but continue for money.
  • Earning takes precedence over family, personal health and relationships.
  • Loyalty goes to dustbin for 2X salary raise.

Money is important to meet our ends. But craving for it, swearing by it is a result of materialism. One has to be aware of it and draw clear lines.

Social media is conditioning us to believe us that everything we own is worthless and that we must buy the newer better things out there.  We crave to buy happiness through long vacations, fancy cars, houses and what not. All of this requires money, so we work like donkeys and go mad.

We fall for the never ending loop of work, earn, buy and repeat.

Every week there is a launch of a phone or car or brand of clothing. Buying has become synonymous to happiness, SALE offers being run 365 days. Advertisements tell us: “More is good”, “New will make you superhuman”, “Hurry up, buy now” and a lot more hidden agendas.

What will happen to all the money if we die in a road accident? We spend our present sucking at work, dreaming of a  future which was never assured to us.

Flaws in barter system introduced currency. Our forefathers  might not have imagined that future humans will run after it like monkeys.

We are so caught up in work that we don’t have even have time to spend with our kids. We have to leave them at the mercy of our maids, while we go and work.

We are producing more, buying more and wasting more. West suffers from health issues due to overeating whereas many other nations are suffering from poverty.

O, Twitter!

I love Twitter. It is my gateway to the outside world. It feeds me with daily news, gossips, celebrations and mass outrage.

Twitter connects me to the makers and those who have made it big in their domain. I have learnt a lot through them.

In the pre-internet era, social engagement meant meeting over beer, coffee or dinner. Watching TV with family or night out with friends were the fun activities. Selfies, posting photos and likes had no meaning. Everyone would meet, greet, listen and share. Ironically, we were more connected back then.

Social media has narrowed real and virtual world separation. We meet someone on Twitter and meet over coffee or beer. I have made dozens of great friends. Some of them are very close to me while the others have moved on. My friend tells me how he used Twitter as a hiring platform. Few others share stories about their hookups using Twitter.

At times I ask myself, has twitter made us insecure.  We are all aware of our anxiety – fear of missing out. Constant attention seeking urge on social media platforms has stressed us out.

Twitter’s role in spreading fake news and fueling propaganda is well known.  Many hate groups and radical organizations use it. All you need is some fake photo/video to spread misinformation among followers. Sometimes fake news pick up like wildfire and have resulted in furious debates. News channels take it to the next level with panel discussions and more noise.

Twitter creates mass hysteria. When a celebrity commits suicide or a cricketer does publicity gimmick, the entire platform goes bonkers. We waste our day taking sides on endless discussions

We have failed at being empathetic to our family, friends, cooks and cleaners. Instead we grieve over the death of someone who had no role to play in our life

I had promised someone of buying a good number of twitter stocks few years back, I don’t see it happening now. I could not reach that milestone but that is a story for some other blog post.

Twitter is amazing, use it with care. Do not get carried away, focus on elements which make you happy and intelligent. Avoid blood pressure spikes and heart conditions by not participating in  meaningless conversations. Be more aware.

 

Book notes: how to be a stoic

I picked  “How to be a stoic” out of curiosity. I had watched some lectures on this book earlier on YouTube and it acted as a hook.  The author, Massimo Pigliucci is a professor of  Philosophy at CUNY-Lehman College in New York City. 

I liked the author’s style of storytelling. His analysis on how stoic philosopher Epictetus would have reacted to our modern day problems were spot on. He also shares his personal and other practitioner’s experience on stoicism.  

These are some notes from the book:

The  basic principles under Stoic system

  • Virtue
  • Follow the nature
  • Dichotomy of control
  • (Practical) wisdom
  • Courage
  • Justice
  • Temperance

 

Author has put in a daily stoic practice exercise, which has come from Enchiridion by Epictetus  

  • Examine your impressions

“So make a practice at once of saying to every strong impression: ‘An impression is all you are, not the source of the impression.’ Then test and assess it with your criteria, but one primarily: ask, ‘Is this something that is, or is not, in my control?’ And if it’s not one of the things that you control, be ready with the reaction, ‘Then it’s none of my concern.’”

  • Remind yourself of the impermanence of things.

“In the case of particular things that delight you, or benefit you, or to which you have grown attached, remind yourself of what they are. Start with things of little value. If it is china you like, for instance, say, ‘I am fond of a piece of china.’ When it breaks, then you won’t be as disconcerted. When giving your wife or child a kiss, repeat to yourself, ‘I am kissing a mortal.’ Then you won’t be so distraught if they are taken from you.”

  • The reserve clause.

“Whenever planning an action, mentally rehearse what the plan entails. If you are heading out to bathe, picture to yourself the typical scene at the bathhouse—people splashing, pushing, yelling and pinching your clothes. You will complete the act with more composure if you say at the outset, ‘I want a bath, but at the same time I want to keep my will aligned with nature’ [that is, to apply reason to social living]. Do it with every act. That way if something occurs to spoil your bath, you will have ready the thought, ‘Well, this was not my only intention, I also meant to keep my will in line with nature—which is impossible if I go all to pieces whenever anything bad happens.’”

  • How can I use virtue here and now?

For every challenge, remember the resources you have within you to cope with it. Provoked by the sight of a handsome man or a beautiful woman, you will discover within you the contrary power of self-restraint. Faced with pain, you will discover the power of endurance. If you are insulted, you will discover patience. In time, you will grow to be confident that there is not a single impression that you will not have the moral means to tolerate.”

  • Pause and take a deep breath

“Remember, it is not enough to be hit or insulted to be harmed, you must believe that you are being harmed. If someone succeeds in provoking you, realize that your mind is complicit in the provocation. Which is why it is essential that we not respond impulsively to impressions; take a moment before reacting, and you will find it is easier to maintain control.”

  • Other-ize

“We can familiarize ourselves with the will of nature by calling to mind our common experiences. When a friend breaks a glass, we are quick to say, ‘Oh, bad luck.’ It’s only reasonable, then, that when a glass of your own breaks, you accept it in the same patient spirit. Moving on to graver things: when somebody’s wife or child dies, to a man we all routinely say, ‘Well, that’s part of life.’ But if one of our own family is involved, then right away it’s ‘Poor, poor me!’ We would do better to remember how we react when a similar loss afflicts others.”

  • Speak little and well

“Let silence be your goal for the most part; say only what is necessary, and be brief about it. On the rare occasions when you’re called upon to speak, then speak, but never about banalities like gladiators, horses, sports, food and drink—common-place stuff. Above all don’t gossip about people, praising, blaming or comparing them.”

  • Choose your company well

“Avoid fraternizing with non-philosophers. If you must, though, be careful not to sink to their level; because, you know, if a companion is dirty, his friends cannot help but get a little dirty too, no matter how clean they started out.”

  • Respond to insults with humor

“If you learn that someone is speaking ill of you, don’t try to defend yourself against the rumors; respond instead with, ‘Yes, and he doesn’t know the half of it, because he could have said more.’”

  • Don’t speak too much about yourself

“In your conversation, don’t dwell at excessive length on your own deeds or adventures. Just because you enjoy recounting your exploits doesn’t mean that others derive the same pleasure from hearing about them.”

  • Speak without judging

“Someone bathes in haste; don’t say he bathes badly, but in haste. Someone drinks a lot of wine; don’t say he drinks badly, but a lot. Until you know their reasons, how do you know that their actions are vicious? This will save you from perceiving one thing clearly, but then assenting to something different.”

  • Reflect on your day

“Admit not sleep into your tender eyelids till you have reckoned up each deed of the day—How have I erred, what done or left undone? So start, and so review your acts, and then for vile deeds chide yourself, for good be glad.”

My take away from the book: be virtuous and have a set of principles for a content life.

Book Notes: When Coffee and Kale Compete

Last week my friend Rajagopal advised me to read “When Coffee and Kale Compete: Become Great at Making Products People Will Buy

The book introduces the interesting concept of Jobs to be done or JTBD.  What I liked about and made me glued to the 200 pages of the book is one simple thing: Building product for customers, nothing else.

The two core principles of JTBD are about customers:

  • The desire every customer has to improve themselves and their life situations.
  • How customers imagine their lives being better when they have the right solution.

 

I will focus on customers and competitions which the book talks about. These are the notes from from the book.

Customers

  • Customers wants help in making themselves better.
  • Your desire to delight customers will drive you to invent on their behalf.
  • A dissatisfied customer does not complain; he just switches.
  • Customers can tell you of their struggles, how they expect life to be better, and how they interact with the products they use. But they cannot tell you what to do about it.
  • Design your product to deliver customers an ongoing feeling of progress.
  • Customers need to feel successful at every touch point between themselves and your business, not just at the very end when the outcome of an action is realized.
  • A successful product and business will continually improve customers’ lives. As customers use your product to make their lives better, they will face new challenges and desire new goals and outcomes.
  • Products have no value in and of themselves. They have value only when customers use them to make progress.
  • What can we change to better meet your needs?  << Ask your customer, it makes them more comfortable.
  • Talk with customers to learn what messages connect with them. It can be as simple as asking them to describe why they like your product.
  • Studying what customers consider as competition helps you reveal what pushes them to change.
  • Discover what customers value. Learn their expectations at the moment of purchase and/or first use and avoid over engineering solutions.
  • A great deal of waste happens when solutions are developed with features that customers don’t value. Customers value the progress a feature may deliver, not the feature itself.
  • If customers have anxiety over the cost-value relationship of your product, offer a discount.
  • If customers experience anxiety in using your product, find a way to make your product less intimidating.
  • If your product doesn’t help customers make progress, price doesn’t matter.
  • Identify any habits-in-use that keep customers from using your product. Adjust your product to help them along.
  • Comparing the habits of your best customers with the habits of those who recently quit is a great way to figure out how to turn switchers.
  • For customers who’ve stopped using your product, ask them why.
  • Grow your business, reduce churn, and capture more profits by delivering progress to customers.
  • A great salesperson understands that customer “wants” come from the system, not the customer. So, if you want to change “what customers want,” all you have to do is convince them of a Job that is worth getting Done.
  • Do customers a favor: help them visualize making progress. Create marketing and advertising materials that tell customers that you understand their struggle for progress, that help them visualize how life will be better when they have the right solution, and that explain why your product is the right solution.

 

Competition

  • You might think you’re alone in a market or have market superiority, but some unknown competitor might be stealing away your customers. Your only sign that something is wrong is decreasing sales.
  • Competition is defined in the minds of customers, and they use progress as their criterion.
  • Customers don’t define or restrict competition based on the functionality or physical appearance of a product. Instead, they use whatever helps them make progress
  • Studying what customers consider as competition helps you reveal what pushes them to change.
  • How can you beat the competition? Eliminate the need for the customer to make a trade-off.
  • Learn how to think about competition, become better at identifying real threats to your business, create better messaging that properly speaks to what customers consider as competition, and know how you should and shouldn’t design a solution.
  • Don’t assume two products are competitors because they look or function similarly.
  • Confirm that competition exists between products by finding customers who switched.
  • Every innovator, whether creating a new innovation or improving an existing one, should have a clear idea of how his or her customers see competition. When you’re creating a new innovation, you need to answer these
    • What are customers going to stop buying when they start buying our solution?
    • if you’re creating a new feature for an existing product, you need to ask, “What behaviors or other products is this feature going to replace?”

 

Other takeaways:

  • Success stories of founders applying  JTBD.
  • How just building product without taking customer survey resulted in failure of Tata Nano and Godrej ChotuKool. It also mentions how  Godrej repositioned ChotuKool and got success.
  • How creative destruction eat Kodak and made it bankrupt.
  • Why comparing PC with Mainframe or comparing PC sales with smartphones are incorrect.

 

I would like to  thank the author for writing this book because it just talks about how your product should be empowering your customers and making your business profitable.

If you wish to know more about JTBD do follow https://jtbd.info/  for more user stories, techniques and latest updates.  

 

On my own

1st June 2017 was when I was free from my last full time job. It also means since then (aka over a year) I have been on my own.

Looking back at these 360+ odd days, I have realized that I have done good for myself. I feel I have become more calm, healthy and confident.

Most of my time in the last one year has been spent on reading, learning new things like doodling, coding and rebuilding  my mental and physical strength. I have also been occasionally writing my “Random Thoughts”.

I have also spent a good amount of money on coffee, not that I’m complaining about it.  I also happened to meet some extremely talented folks and made some great friends, who are always inspiring me to do better.

On the reading front, I mostly focussed on learning more about guts (our microbiome), human brain, running, keto, intermittent fasting, on writing, philosophy (mostly Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Osho and Jiddu Krishnamurti) and product development.

I felt scared and lonely at times. One constant question was : “WTF am I doing?”

I can happily say that I will not  die of hunger, will survive. I have some great friends and mentors who are helping and will always be my side on this journey of life exploration.I have been working on some startup ideas and trying to explore some more.

This constant fight with self and struggle to understand “Who am I? ” seems to have made me gritty and system driven.

I would like to share 10 learnings from these 360+ days of my life:

  • Life is too short, living in the present matters the most.
  • Spending time with like minded people is the key to happiness.
  • Physical and mental health is our only asset and it will define our wealth.
  • What you eat, what you read, whom you spend time with and what you listen to will define you as a person. So choose wisely.
  • Real evaluation is in your daily virtues and  life principles.
  • Money is important but not everything, don’t fall for consumerism.
  • Your focus and consciousness will make or break you.
  • Don’t be an asshole, one less on the planet will do good (even in a small sample size).
  • Learning comes by doing: gurus, books, degrees are worth nothing if you are not implementing it on yourself.
  • Life is like a train journey. At every stop we meet new folks and learn new things and then we move on for our new quest

On Advice

Advices are the easiest to come by. They have come from my friends, parents, relatives and even from those I have not met. Advices can be on anything and everything like I have shown in the following sketches.    

Career

Marriage

Programming Languages

Starting Up

Fundraising

My constant struggle :

  • Who should I take advice from?
  • What if they are wrong?
  • Why should I listen to them?
  • Have they tried these on themselves?

Our life is how we see it. It is very short. In the end what matters to us is what defines us. Advices should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Being aware and more conscious about self will do good to us. Otherwise we will screw up.

Being Authentic

Everyone is trying to be like someone else, everyone is looking for success mantra – from reading blog posts of famous entrepreneurs, learning about their daily routines to copying  some hip hop artist look. We have turned into breed of copycats, but for what? Why can’t we be authentic, be as we are?

We are conditioned by our environment (parents, family, teachers, peers, supervisors) to be, act, behave and talk in a society defined protocol. Those who obey it are incentivized to keep at it and others are ostracized.

How many of us are really creative at our workplace? Do we do work the way we want to? How many of us are not micromanaged?

The dynamics created in the early days of capitalism are still widely followed. It was Henry Ford who came up with 40 hour (9-5) work weeks for his factory workers. Since then, we have injected it all domains like work horses/donkeys.

Employees high on coffee and in perfectly micromanaged environment work from early in the morning to the late evening. Some of the lucky ones get incentives like free dinner or free transport and end up working even more hours.

There is no creativity because there is no freedom. Most of the time it is all about copying the design and workflows of competitors.   

On the  weekends we are riding on the consumerism boat shopping merchandises from brands who are able to sell us the feeling of being authentic.

If a guy starts crying over his misery when he is drunk, everyone asks him to be a man and not cry. I have no fucking clue who came up with this shit. All of us cry.

When every decision of our life has turned into a checkbox or todo list, is there any scope left for being authentic?

 

On Algorithms

Algorithms are not new, we have been using it in stock trading, ticket booking  etc. Just that in 2018 we are hearing more about it.

Four interesting scenarios happened in past few years.

  1. Emergence of cloud computing made processing fast cheap.
  2. Newer Open Source and proprietary technologies like Keras and TensorFlow took Deep Learning closer to consumers.
  3. Smartphones and increasing internet penetration led to production of mode data.
  4. Ease of access of information through mobile phones powered with various apps

We have companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter. We are more connected with our peers via them, we exchange every bit of information using one of these mediums.  They know more about us than our government. We are minions on their platform connected to other minions. Our usage on these platform has created a persona of ours. This persona is used by these platforms to target ads and custom news feed (powered by algorithms, these platforms decides what we should see in out timeline).

Want to know what data these companies own about you?

  1. Google
  2. Twitter
  3. Facebook via wired post

I don’t know if it is good or bad. But imagine a few scenarios:

  1. Your friend has passed away but Facebook algorithm does not show you the post about it.
  2. You are a Republican supporter and Democrats have paid to these platform to target you with all bad coverage the of Republican candidate in your region.
  3. You searched for wedding dress and now you see advertisement about it everywhere.
  4. You are suggested by the platform to add or follow your ex-gf/bf.
  5. When Netflix loads only its original in all the options for you to watch.

I get to hear about newer advancement in facial recognition, driverless cars and cures for rare diseases.

These are all good, but at what cost?

  • Making more people unemployed
  • Adding surveillance on citizens
  • Putting our doctors, scientists on autopilot

Time will tell where we are headed in next 20-30 years as algorithms will be taking over everything. It will tell us whom to marry, what to eat, where to travel, which candidate to select for a job, who gets a loan to or who to talk to.

What will happen to our consciousness if everything around us is  driven by algorithms ?