Category Archives: people

Skills and Street Smarts

I’ve often tried to think what makes certain people tick while others struggle to get even basic professional standing or success.

I think a lens to look at various folks is in terms of ‘Skills and Street Smarts’. Skills can be further divided into two types (Shallow & Deep) and by Street Smarts, I mean the basic sense/temperament of business, people handling, ability to optimise money decisions and leverage ‘arbitrage opportunities’.

Skills and Street Smarts

There’s another dimension relevant to this discussion, that dimension is of ‘Opportunities’. Opportunities are those super forces that can help one in changing their life/career trajectory.

Needless to say, one has to latch on to the right opportunities and you’ll find for most successful people (in business or elsewhere) that they found great opportunities somewhere in their journey and capitalised well on them.

In contrast with Opportunities, Skills are something which are much more in people’s control. One can decide which skills to develop and how deep to go in them. Street Smarts, I believe is a way of dealing with day-to-day life situations and people and becomes a part of ones nature during their teens or early 20’s. In most cases, people continue to operate within their circle of street-smartness with small changes for remainder of their lives.

Empirically speaking, I think people who struggle to scrap by in life (not able to settle professionally, earn a reasonable salary etc) are more often than not in the ‘Shallow Skills’ and ‘Low Street Smarts’ quadrant. Highly successful entrepreneurs (with massive outcomes/impact) tend to lie in ‘Deep Skills’ and ‘High Street Smart’s quadrant.

Your neighbourhood slacker (Jugaadu as we call them sometimes), the one who doesn’t really have any professionally important skill but knows enough people and/or has enough business sense to find small arbitrage or similar opportunities to make a reasonable living.

 How Skills and ‘Street Smarts’ Stack Up

With different combinations of Deep/Shallow Skills and Street Smarts, various outcomes happen. The folks who concern me the most, the ones who are not able to stand on their feet and get about growing in their lives invariably happen in the ‘Shallow Skills’ and ‘Low Street Smarts’ quadrant. 

An easy way for them to come out of that quicksand is to pick up some skills and if possible team up with someone who has more street smarts than them (and can be trusted with).

Also, I believe a good majority lies in the low deep skills and low-to-mid ‘Street Smarts’ range. While, the prevalent tendency is to optimise for becoming more street smart (penny negotiations etc) I believe most people would be much better off if they instead try to optimise for going deep in their skills of choice.

Of Errands and Good Procrastination

I’ve never been good at doing certain type of things. This has been the case for as long as I can remember. 

This belief of delaying/skipping things that felt ‘Unimportant’ became stronger when I stumbled upon this blog post by Paul Graham during my first job

PG talks about three types of procrastinations depending on what one does instead of not working on something 

  1. Doing Nothing
  2. Doing Something Less Important
  3. Doing Something More Important

As you can imagine, unlike other cases, deciding to ‘Not Do Something’ or procrastinating in order to use that time to ‘Do something more important’ is actually ‘Good Procrastination’

Boman Irani catches a power nap and gets shave done to save time (3 Idiots)

That overwhelming feeling of a long list of errands that need your attention is pretty frequent for many of us. Errands come in all shapes & sizes and come from all directions. Also, they have an infinite supply. Which means, no matter how many of them you get off your list, there will always be more errands waiting for you once you reach home or start working on something important.

In case you are wondering what classifies as errands.

What’s “small stuff?” Roughly, work that has zero chance of being mentioned in your obituary. It’s hard to say at the time what will turn out to be your best work (will it be your magnum opus on Sumerian temple architecture, or the detective thriller you wrote under a pseudonym?), but there’s a whole class of tasks you can safely rule out: shaving, doing your laundry, cleaning the house, writing thank-you notes—anything that might be called an errand.

Good procrastination is avoiding errands to do real work.

While it may be crystal clear to you that the task at hand is an errand, to people who want you to do it won’t necessarily think like that. This, could be a source of some tension but then

‘You Gotta Not Do, What You Gotta Not Do’.

I try to think of errands from the lens of  ‘The Eisenhower Matrix’

The Eisenhower Matrix’

Types of Errands

  1. Urgent & Important
  2. Not Urgent & Important
  3. Urgent & Not Important
  4. Not Urgent & Not Important

Type 1: I try to make everyone around me (the errand creators) understand that we should try not to have any items from Type 1 (Urgent & Important). There should be almost no errands that demands my immediate attention. However, if any errand from Type 1 comes about, it has to be dealt with on priority.

Type 2: I try to bunch the important items together and schedule a suitable time to do them

Type 3: I try to delegate these (where I don’t need to be personally involved and it’s not important) to others or figure out if they can be done using technology

Type 4: I try to treat them as they don’t exist (Ignore). By doing this, such errands stop finding their way to me.

Errands are productivity killers and when left unchecked, grow surprisingly fast and tend to take all the time available.

Another, thing with errands is sometimes they can give you an illusion of getting some work done when in reality, a lot of that work amounts to nothing meaningful and won’t help you grow in any way.

I don’t know any successful person who isn’t a good procrastinator and doesn’t aggressively shield their time from errands. Maybe, this says something.

PS: Here’s a super long read by Tim Urban (Wait but why) on Procrastination 

Chamath Palihapitiya’s Resignation Email (from Facebook)

From Quora

i leave with incredible hope for how you will continue to make this place awesome. every tuesday, i talk to the n00bs. and i generally tell them the following, which i leave for you as a reminder:
its easy to get distracted. everyone thinks we are much better than we actually are. be humble and honest about the fact that more is left to do than has already been done. keep moving quickly and don’t get bogged down in the things that don’t matter.

we risk becoming like everyone else. the only chance we have is the discipline and resolve of the silent majority who needs to and MUST become more vocal as the company gets bigger. fight for the culture the way it should be…not the way it was or the way its becoming.

be afraid of the company you don’t know. there is someone out there lurking with a small idea that will grow into a giant. don’t ignore that which you don’t immediately understand and keep pushing to evolve faster than what people expect. it can create unease at times but its our only path to long term relevance.

speak the truth. its too easy to “manage” – upwards, sideways, downwards and be rewarded for it. this is death. speak candidly especially when it means it won’t be well received. respect the person but don’t let bad ideas go unchallenged.

their is more valor in failure than success. success is hard to define and hard to isolate root causes when it happens. its rare to learn much of anything from success except to conflate luck and skill, but you learn tons in failure. take enough risks that you continue to fail…and celebrate those so that it becomes the battle scars you talk about when you do eventually succeed.

don’t be a douchebag. this is pretty self-explanatory but its not about the right to ripstik or the quality of the candy bars in the office. its about winning. everything else comes second….a distant second. and the perceived correlation between winning and the rest is only in your mind. interestingly so is the resolve and focus to win.

i’ve really enjoyed my time here. thanks again for the chance to always say what’s on my mind. its a rare place that allows everyone to do that and our results speak to the values of risk taking, openness and transparency. don’t betray them as we move along.

good luck. make it rain.


Difficult Conversations and How we avoid them?

Conversations, how we love and hate them(at times). Our lives are filled with conversations of sorts, some meaningful bust mostly meaningless. Even the most introvert people can’t do without engaging in conversations and there’s little chance that one can do away with not having any conversations at all.

Conversations, like money matter more in certain places than others. So much so that in certain situations conversations are the most crucial element. Running a business is one such case in which having conversations is one of the core aspects of operation.

Day in and day out, an entrepreneur needs to engage in conversations of all sorts with their fellow co-founders, investors, employees, partners, vendors and others. From the vision of the company, its direction, targets to execution plans these conversations not only discuss the functioning of the company for also decide how even the smallest of peg in the machine called a company will run. Since these conversations are that important one needs be really good at handling them (kinda like story telling).

It’s fair to assume that all great entrepreneurs must be great and doing conversations across the wide spectrum of their stake holders.

Over the last few months I’ve noticed that certain people (including business owners and well to do professionals) are noticeably bad at handling *difficult conversations*. By a difficult conversation here I mean a conversation which involves either saying “NO” to something or “to negotiate” its details. I’m excluding the cases where one has people below them in the ladder to play the bad cop or do detailing/negotiation.

Certain conversations by their nature or the nature/situation of people involved can be difficult. Think a girl wanting to break the news of ending her relationship with a guy because she feels she doesn’t love him (anymore?) or a manager who has to tell his subordinate that he’ll have his paycut or worse be fired from the organization. The examples of difficult conversations are abound, they vary across the personal and professional lives.

From saying No to something/someone, breaking bad news or negotiating terms for a deal, difficult conversations often find very few takers. People’s response when faced with a difficult conversation could range from avoidance till limit or experiencing emotional turmoil and more. Many a times, people’s response catches many by surprise and keeps them wondering what happened.

To keep things succinct, we’ll limit the scope of the post to that of ‘Difficult conversations’ related to work/business.

Consider This: A guy from a services company approaches a business owner to offer their services and after a couple meetings and deliberation for whatever reason the business owner decides against the deal. Quite a few people which I know (including myself sometimes) would stop answering the calls/emails from the services guy.  This I feel is totally weird and uncalled for. The most obvious and the best way to go about this is to simply communicate the reason (briefly maybe) on why you have decided against their offer/proposal and clear the air instead of leaving them guessing and needless to say feeling treated badly. There are many more cases like these and I feel having a lack of confidence in breaking the bad news or the fear of someone forming a different impression about you could be the reasons.

Are there more reasons for this? Why do you think people avoid difficult conversations?

The Power of Routine

Getting into a routine of doing things is something I’ve seen a lot of people struggle with. Someone who is successful/achiever or great at something might have a tough time at doing something regularly say as *simple* as going for a 15 minute walk.

There is a lot more to the routine (doing things repeatedly over a period of time) than what meets the eye. So much so that you can judge someone to a fair extent but knowing if they follow any routines. If they follow a routine for anything (except watching TV, reading in the loo etc) they have

  1. Discipline/Will Power
  2. Will or Desire to learn/get better at something or help someone
  3. Comparatively better ability of plan/utilize their time
  4. Some level of resourcefulness

So, if you want to be better at the above mentioned things, you know what to do.

I’ve pondered a lot on how to improve an individual’s intellect or widen their horizon( especially about understanding how they and to an extent the world around them works) and I strongly believe that to get someone to improve or move to the next level in their personal or professional life, one of most effective and doable things is to make them get into a routine. This routine could be for anything. Anything they like or want to learn. Not only these, even if they are able to get up in the morning everyday and go for a walk/job I believe it would be of definite help.

Also, I feel if a person is in a habit of doing something regularly, and they add more items in their routine they can evolve and become better.

Want to start a new routine/habit? Check this presentation out

[slideshare id=6411687&doc=3stepstonewhabitsv2-101230181501-phpapp01]

Thoughts on Reflection

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” ― Søren Kierkegaard

Humans, I believe are not very good when it comes to reflecting. Reflecting about time, relationships, events, patterns and deviations from patterns. I, myself am not significantly better at it. Not sure why but for me(and maybe a lot others) the act of reflecting is connected to certain dates/events.

“Some nights are made for torture, or reflection, or the savoring of loneliness.” ― Poppy Z. Brite

I am highly likely to reflect and introspect on/around my Birthday, around New year’s eve or a few other dates while I am highly unlikely to be looking back in detail on most other days of the year. Possible reasons for the same could be

    1. The Power of Habit: I am used to take out time especially to think on my birthday but not used to doing this on other days
    2. Rut of the Routine: We are so busy doing zillion things on normal days that it becomes difficult to be thinking deep
    3. No Clue: Going by the ratio of people I am close with and the number of people who talk to me about reflecting I guess most people are oblivion to the concept of reflecting.

“Reflection is the business of man; a sense of his state is his first duty: but who remembereth himself in joy? Is it not in mercy then that sorrow is allotted unto us?” – William Shakespeare

I feel thinking deeply about the past and what it was like is a great tool in understanding oneself and where/how one’s life is progressing (if at all). There are many a times important realizations about oneself, and others which are invaluable if worked upon.

Maybe it’s time we integrate the various elements of internet/startups in life. Maybe we should have

    1. Life Model aka Business Model or Happiness Model aka Financial Model
    2. Key Performance Indicators
    3. Dashboard
    4. Goals
    5. Monthly/Quarterly Reviews

What do you think?

Patch Adams & The Difficulty of Being Helpful

If you are an Indian and watch Hindi movies, chances are you must have heard of the hugely popular film “Munnabhai MBBS” starring Sanjay Dutt(as Munna) and Arshad Warsi(as Circuit). I too like millions others watched and re-watched the film to cherish the beautiful message of putting the human touch in Medicare and focusing on improving patients quality of life.

While the film was great, I (and most others) didn’t know that it was inspired (not copied, ok?) from Hollywood film Patch Adams. The bad bit is that Vidhu Vinod Chopra and co didn’t even bother to give credits to the film or the man himself at the end of the film.

Me and my brother happened to see the film yesterday and loved it to tears.  The best thing about the film however is that it’s based on real life story of Hunter “Patch” Adams . There’s nothing more beautiful and inspiring than a honest pursuit of  simple philosophy which one holds dear.

My immediate reaction after finishing the film at 1:30AM was to read more about the real Patch Adams and here’s what I found. There’s indeed a  Gesundheit Institute (you can read more about it here and Dr Patch Adams is alive and still trying to revolutionize the system.

While some of us might expect that after two films by two of the biggest film industries (Hollywood and Bollywood) things would have changed for Dr Patch Adams and Gesundheit Institute for good but sadly none of that happened, no big donations came forward their way and their team had to struggle to get the project off ground.

This talk shares more details about the real deal

What’s disappointing really is the fact no big names and not enough smaller ones came forward to support such a noble cause. Is it too Utopian to be true?

What do you think is the real reason?  What would it take to catch fancy of the Social Media Generation?

PS: Really bad of the film maker Tom Shadyac and co for not doing anything for Dr Patch’s work

The Idea Zone

I am one of those whose minds are mostly occupied by something or other related to their work. It’s something I’ve grown into ever since I stopped working for someone else about three years back . Whether it’s execution details about a feature/project or a new idea all together I am mostly thinking and when not thinking something in particular I am thinking about thinking. While doing the  latter, I’ve realized that I like many others have some favourite spots for specific things i.e a preferred place for watching a film, having chai or taking a stroll.

most of my thinking/ideation happens in a cafe
(Photo Credits:

When you are at this preferred place doing what you like doing you are at your natural optimum best. For some strange reason I’ve always felt that I could brainstorm better/longer if I am at a different/unusual place. Not surprisingly it has turned out to be the case indeed. From reading a business book to ideation on a business idea Cafes and open spaces(esp Parks) seem to work very well for me. I’ve spent quite some time by myself sitting in a cafe sipping cappuccino  reading a book or scribbling ideas with a pencil at a park.

Another place where lot of interesting big/small ideas pop in my head is while having bath. It’s been quite a few times now when I have gone to shower with a thought seed and have come out with a cool idea ready to be detailed and execute. Obvious as it sounds, most of us need an optimum environment to be at our productive best but despite it being so obvious we tend to not take it seriously. I for one don’t go to a cafe everyday/every other day.

Maybe we all should try to identify such zones and try to visit them more often. What do you think?

Lessons in Business from Bala Balachandran

About a couple weeks back I happened to come to know about Mr Bala Balachandran from a friend of mine who also shared with me the printouts of an article titled “I firmly believe that all customers are not equal” that  appeared in Business Standard on 24th December 2002(couldn’t manage to find a link). It’s not often that one comes across this much business wisdom in a 4 page printout.

After giving that article a re-read yesterday, I searched a bit on Mr Bala Balachandran and amongst other things I stumbled upon this series of fantastic videos on everything from Cost Management to Customer Astonishment. This would by far be the best material on business I’ve come across in 2010 and the fact that these gems are hidden from the world is reflected in the fact that these videos had been viewed 2-5 times at max. It’s only now after repeated views from me that these numbers have jumped up :). Also, Balachandran not only shares his business wisdom, he does so in a nice and funny manner. At 72, he has contagious energy and passion.

Only if someone could stitch these  small 2-3 minute videos together would they make into an amazing video.

Are you holding your business too tightly to let it grow?


Building a brand, product or an idea is like raising a child. You need to nurture and protect it during its early days and slowly set it free to grow. Sounds simple and obvious? Trust it me it’s not, at least for most people.

I’ve seen numerous cases of product(primarily web) founders, small businessmen and more falling into the trap of holding their product/business/idea too close to their hearts to let it grow, grow beyond them. Things are quite easy (in this context) during the initial stages with people putting their blood and sweat into their business and helping it stand on its feet and start walking. The real problem occurs in the next stage in which the business needs to start running not just walking.This is the stage where all sorts of conscious and unconscious forces come into play that tend to prevent the owner(s) to from letting their business/idea take the leap.

During the initial phases the business/idea is known more by the people behind it, both are synonymous with each other and that’s all that there is to it because the business is mostly driven by it’s promoters/founders, it’s known mostly in the promoters’ circle of friends  and is yet to grow and have an independent existence of it’s own. Once the business has firm grounding and more people start nurturing it directly or indirectly the pace and scope of its growth depends on how the core group of promoters loosen their strong ties with it.

Essentially it’s all about loosing the tight control and dependency that once the business had on its promoters because these factors now become the limiting force in its growth. The conflict that thus arises is a peculiar one in which the promoters still want to be involved as much as they were some time back in almost everything related to the business, while the business itself strives to outgrow its promoters. This is the stage where like a growing child the business needs to venture out, meet new people, develop new relationships, try new and different things not necessarily within the scope of its founders, in short this is the stage where the business needs to start getting a life of his own.

For some businesses it might mean raising funds, for some it might mean getting more people on board (not necessarily as employees who merely execute the promoters plans/ideas) and outsourcing a part of your business to someone else. The idea of loosing control is what troubles most promoters but the hard fact is that in order to make your business grow beyond you, you need to loose some control and this is what smart people realize.

The goal rather than trying to have your business as integrated as possible with its founders should be to let it loose as early as possible as only then the business can have a life of its own and it can grow into something big, much bigger than its promoters.