What to Do When You are Having a rough day?

Premise:

Being an entrepreneur is not for the faint hearted. As entrepreneurs, we are constantly trying to juggle things, fighting fires, digging wells, selling ideas and influencing people. IN the midst of doing all of these, there are days when nothing seems to move in the direction that we want them to move in. Worse still, things move in the opposite direction. Every meeting, every phone call, every email leads to a response that is exactly opposite to what we were hoping for. We miss an important deadline and in the midst of all of this, our spouse or the significant other or an employee calls up and we end up taking out our frustrations and anger on that person. This is so uncool.

We all have these days. So, the question is what can we do about these days? How can we deal with the anxiety and the frustrations that these days bring to us?

These are a few things that we can do:

Acknowledge:

The first thing that is critical is that we acknowledge that we are having a rough day. Then tell ourselves that this too shall pass. We need to practice empathy towards ourselves as much as we need to practice it with others. Once we acknowledge this feeling of frustration and anger, we can start work towards managing this stress levels.  One thing that has worked for me in the past and is recommended by Benjamin Zanders in his book “The Art of Possibility” is to practice telling ourselves – “How fascinating” and then go on to see what is so fascinating in the scenario. It can help even better if we see the entire thing with a third person view (view as if this is happening to someone else and not us).

Slow down:

Once we have realised and acknowledged that we are having one of those days, we need to stop working, slow down and start breathing. One of the physical aspects of being stressed is that our body starts reacting to the stress physiologically by releasing certain specific harmones. The way we deal with these harmones is to slow down the release of these stress harmones and then release the harmones which will help us in dealing with stress.

We can do that by slowing down and breathing. I dont know if you have noticed this but everytime I am stressed, I start pacing around, the speed at which I talk increases, everything about me seems to be faster. This includes the speed at which I can think of everything else that could go wrong as well.

So, it would be a good idea to find a place where we could sit down comfortably and sit down. Then practice deliberate, slow and deep breathing. We all know that the body and mind are interconnected. The body follows the mind and the mind follows the body. So, the moment, we slow down physically, our mind starts to slow down as well. This by itself is a great step and will work even if you dont do anything else.

Or Speed Up:

Some of my friends find it extremely difficult to slow down in such moments. So, the alternative if we can’t slow down and practice deep breathing, we should find a way to speed up. We could go for a run, hit the gym or go for a session of swimming. The idea here is to get the physical body & the mind to start focusing on something else.  This activity also ensures that our body gets a lot of oxygen and has a similar effect on the physiology of our body.

Make a phone call:

One of the next thing you could do is to call someone. Ideally, this is someone whom you have already identified as the person whom you will call in moments such as this. This could be a friend, a partner, your spouce, a therapist or your mentor or a coach. The idea here is to not continue to dwell on the day and take perspective. This is where being part of a mastermind group or a coach can be a big help. You could share your frustration with them and they can at best give you a different perspective and at worst listen to you and tell you that everything is going to be all-right.

The closer we are to a problem the more unlikely we are to solve it. Stepping back gives a better perspective. Taking the mind off the situation helps in coming back to the problem with a more refreshed and active mind. The trick here is to call the right person – it is best if we already have a set of 3 or 4 people identified for such situations ahead of time. It works even better is you have already shared with those people that you will call them in situations like this and if it is ok for them to just give you the 10 – 15 mins of their undivided attention at that time and help gain perspective if possible.

Trigger a habit:

We are all creatures of habit. There are certain habits that can trigger certain thought patterns or a series of actions and behaviours. For example, if I start listening to a specific track of music, it automatically puts me in a mental frame and I relax. I also like to walk to my cafetaria and engage in the process of making tea for myself. That by default slows me down, puts me in a very contemplative mode and takes me to a very different place. Doodling does this to a lot of people. Watching news does something similar to people. Watching a scene of a favorite movie has a similar effect for some. This is also the reason why most people go out for a smoke when stressed. That is not the habit that i would want any of us to invoke.

IF we don’t have one such routines, maybe it is time for each one of us to be intentional about creating some such routines or habits that can help us in managing these situations.

Find Small Wins: 

Everything that we have discussed so far is about stopping ourselves getting stressed. That is never enough. If we dont create something that can take its place, it will return the moment we are done with all the above steps. So, it is important for us to find a way to reverse the stressors. This can be done by two ways. The first is for us to find some small wins and celebrate them.

It could be clearing out our inbox or sending a hand-written thank you note to one of our important customers.

It could be crossing something from our task list.

It could be as mundane as taking care of some of our chores that we have been procrastinating about.

The trick here is for us to find some small win that we can celebrate. This celebration is what has the potential to stop the stressors and put us in a positive frame of mind, which can then trigger other smaller wins and so and so forth.

Practice Gratitude:

The other way to reverse the stressors is to find things that we are grateful for. At times, this seems so difficult to do. Having a gratitude journal is something a lot of us find difficult to maintain. However, I have found that developing this habit of writing a gratitude journal can have significant benefits. Every time, we are in a situation where nothing is going right, reading this journal immediately puts things in perspectives. It tells us that there is a lot that is going our way than stuff that is not going our way. Just this realisation that there is a lot for which we are grateful for has the effect of reversing the stressors.

The key here is that we need to cultivate the habit of gratitude journals before we end up in a situation like this. Though, thinking about what we are grateful for, in such situation also has benefits, the real and lasting benefits come from having this practice already in place and doing this with full sincerity. We can fool everyone in the world but ourselves. So, if we are not truthfully grateful for things that we write in our journal, the entire process is counter-productive and will cause more harm than good.

Be a Philosopher Entrepreneur: 

The most difficult but the most effective way to handle days like these are by being a philosopher. In Indian mythology, we have a consistent theme, where we are asked to do our work and not expect anything else in return. The implicit and sometime explicit meaning is that what we do is in our control and we do that. What comes out of that action (every action has a reaction) is not in our hands. We just need to accept whatever comes back as is, without judging if it is good for us or not, if it was fair or not. The moment we are able to suspend judgement if the reaction for our action was favourable or unfavourable and always take it as the best that could have happened, we are not allowing ourselves to get stressed at all.

This is somewhat similar to ourselves being in a permanent beta. We evolve with every iteration (everyday) of living our lives. We get better with every iteration (everyday) as long as we learn from the feedback that we got the previous day.

In Conclusion:

As entrepreneurs, we will have always have things that will not go as we want them to. Some days, this will be much more prominent and happen multiple times. Staying relaxed and calm during this time is the key to not doing anything stupid. A calm and composed demeanour will take us in the right direction.

What we need to do is to know that this will happen sooner than later. So, it is better for us to be prepared with a specific routine that we will engage in, when we enter such a situation, This will help us deal with such situations much better and we feel more relaxed knowing that we have a routine for the bad (so called)  days already built-in.

The Role Entrepreneurs Can Play To Bring The AI Revolution to Work With Least Disruption

Premise:

There is a growing realisation amongst us in the world that we are currently just moving towards a future where most of the existing jobs will be taken over by AI and robots. While there are a lot of people who will say that the future where we will be either working along with AI or robots or even lose our jobs to them. There are already robots and AI algorithms which are helping do jobs that lawyers, doctors, writers, journalists, musicians, artists, accountants and analysts.

Accounting Standards & AI:

One of the things that was surprising to me when i read a post by John Sharp, that I realised the role that accounting standards could potentially play in the acceleration in the adoption of AI and robots in our day-to-day life.

He observes

Thanks to accounting conventions and tax laws dating back centuries, a robot doesn’t need to be better – or more efficient – than a human being at a task to make a business more profitable.  It just needs to be 34% as good, or 11% as good, depending on that business’s accounting and amortizations policies.

This is a standard practice that almost every entrepreneur around the world uses in order to reduce their overall tax liability. This means that for business who want to replace humans with robots and AI algorithms, the accounting standards that we follow around the world is a good thing in every way we can think of. So, I would not be surprised to see more and more businesses go to algorithms for automation and elimination of human labor, even if they are not very effective already, knowing too well, that they will get increasingly better with time.

What does this mean:

This means that as a race, we need to understand the implications of AI and robots becoming common place. There is a distinct possibility that this can happen much faster than we all expect. This means that we need to have a productive dialogue to discuss these implications and find  ways and means to ease out this transition for the people who will be affected the most by this transition.

There is already a section of entrepreneurs who are voicing their opinions and starting the debate. Bill Gates shares his thoughts about how and why should robots that replace humans should continue to pay income tax or Elon Musk calling for artificial intelligence regulation to combat ‘existential threat’ from robots.

I believe that as entrepreneurs, it is our responsibility towards our employees to take care of them. Human history tells us that mass displacement of labour with high levels of unemployment is a recipe for disaster. So, as entrepreneurs, we are in a unique position to not only talk about how this transition will take place, but also imagine the new kinds of jobs that could arise in the new reality that we are moving towards. It is then in our own self-interest to train our people in such a way that they can smoothly move into these new jobs that will be created.

We also need to think about the following – What use it is to increase our productivity by replacing humans with robots, thereby increasing unemployment for us as a business? If there is massive unemployment, who will buy the products that we are making so efficiently?

The reality is that right now, we are all speculating. However, one thing is certain. Robots and AI algorithms will arrive in the workplace sooner or later and disrupt the employment rates in our society. We need to be ready for this displacement. It is in the best interest of us entrepreneurs to help ensure a smooth transition and avoid anarchy in the market.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, us as entrepreneurs start thinking about this issue.

  • Lets start having a conversation about what could the different futures look like,
  • What could the jobs of the future look like?
  • What can we do to help our employees learn the skills that will help them transition to the new reality?
  • What kind of policies (taxation, regulation or limitations) need to be thought, discussed and decided upon.

It is in our best interest to bring this discussion in the public discourse and ensure that the transition that we are going to witness is as smooth and minimally disruptive as it could be.

The Secret To Building a Successful Business

Premise:

Manish Singhal is a founding Partner of pi Ventures. He is a veteran of 24 years in building hardware and software IP-oriented product companies, early stage investing, valuations, deal structuring and strategy advisory across different sectors. He is also a keen mentor of startups and has conducted many workshops in different parts of India to guide entrepreneurs on how to raise funds.

On July 19th, Manish took time to answer questions from YourStory readers in their weekly section, ‘Conversations at YourStory’.

The Million dollar question:

In response to the question:

“As a mentor to many, what advice do you have for budding entrepreneurs and the dreamers?”

His Answer:

Solve a real problem and solve it like nobody else.

At the surface of it, this seems to be a nice logical answer but I think this is the key to leading any successful

There are two parts to the answer that are the key.

Solving a real problem:

While on the face of it, this sounds to be ridiculously simple, in practice, we will be surprised to know that most of the businesses are started not for this reason. There is no real problem (perceived or otherwise) that we are solving. In tech startups, we find or develop something that we think is and then go looking for users for this cool technology. There is nothing wrong in this approach as long as we are able to identify a real (perceived or otherwise)  need that this technology can address and go on to use that as the lever for growth. This is however a more difficult and an expensive way of starting an enterprise.

The easier way is to identify the real need and then go about finding ways to solve this need. Design thinking as a methodology helps us start with the people, go on to identify their stated and unstated needs, which once identified, we can go ahead and solve them. The key is to identify the problem first and start from there.

Solve it like nobody else:

Once we know the real problem that we are trying to solve for a specific cohort of people, we then need to solve the problem in our own unique way. This uniqueness is what will help us stand out in the crowd and get us noticed. As Bernadette Jiwa and Seth Godin say, differentiation is the key. WE can either differentiate in the way we solve the problem or differentiate in the way we communicate and engage with the customers or differentiate in the way we bring the solution to them.

It is better to be different than being better.

Different allows us to stand out and it is easier if we bring our full personality to solve the problem. If we are fun-loving, can we bring in elements of fun in the solution. If we love music, can we bring in elements of music into the solution. If we are an avid reader, can we bring in elements of reading or books to our solution. Each one of these will allow us to stand apart and at the same time will come naturally to us. This also has the added advantage of being too much fun.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, it is important that we identify a real problem (known or even better is unknown) that a specific cohort of customers have and find unique ways of solving that problem for that set of customers. And have a lot of fun along the way. This is as good a recipe for building a successful business as any other that I have seen anywhere else.

3 Kinds of Complexities That Every Entrepreneur Should Be Ready For And How to Deal with them

Premise:

One of the things that is as predictable as the fact that Sun will rise tomorrow morning from the East and set in the West in the evening is the fact that once a business gains momentum, complexity will creep into the business, which will then slowly stifle the very growth that led to the complexity.

So, what can we do about it:

One of the things that entrepreneurs can do about complexity is to expect it and plan for it in advance. In a fast growing business, there could be three kinds of complexity:

  1. Process or systems
  2. Business Model
  3. Mental Model

Lets explore each one of these in some more detail.

Complexity in our Business Processes or Systems:

This is the kind of complexity that is a direct result of the growth of the business. The teams put together processes and systems haphazardly as and when the needs arise. We can see this in our business, when our employees start complaining about the company having become too bureaucratic. People try to side-step processes and exceptions slowly start to become much more common.

In a nut-shell, this is self inflicted complexity.

There are two ways to handle these complexities:

  • Anticipate these complexities and plan ahead of time. This requires the COO of the business understand the way the business is growing and anticipate areas which need standardised processes and systems in place. When putting in place these systems, processes and policies in place, care needs to be taken that these systems are not designed keeping in mind the current need but keeping in mind the need for the next level of growth that the business is eyeing. There needs to be a balance that needs to be maintained in addressing the current needs, while at the same time the needs that the business will have when it hits the next level of growth, which comes along with its own set of complexities.
  • Deal with them when and where they show up: This method requires that you empower your employees to deal with complexity as and when it arises with clear guidance about what is acceptable and what is not. This method requires a culture where it is ok for employees to make decisions about policies and processes, as long as they keep certain basic rules in mind and inform everyone else about the change in the process that they are creating. This method when used effectively can be fast and give your business a great competitive advantage or on the other hand if not done well, can cripple your business with ever more complexity and may even kill it.

Complexity in our Business Models:

This is the kind of complexity that is a direct result of changing market-place dynamics. This means that there is a new dynamic playing out in the market and while dealing with these dynamics, we create complexity in our business model. It could be complexity in any of the 9 elements of a business model as shared in the business model canvas. We could end up targeting multiple customer segment with different products offering different value propositions. It could be complexity in the way we manage our relationship with out customers. It could be complexity in the way we partner. It could be complexity in the way we utilise our resources. It could be complexity in the way we are pricing our products or in the GTM. It could be complexity in hiring and training the right kind of people that we want in our business.

In a nut-shell, this is a complexity that we create in response to the market dynamics that are playing out.

This kind of complexity is difficult to get out of. It needs tough decisions to be made. Clearly defined and articulated strategic choices need to be made. Product lines might have to be trimmed. Old partnerships let go of and new partnerships forged. Simplification of a business model level complexity is not a trivial thing but still can be managed, as long as we can decide where our future lies.

Complexity in our Mental Models:

The last and the most difficult type of complexity is when our mental models become complex. This is both a good thing and a bad thing, as with anything important.

This is a really bad thing if this is not a result of deliberate effort but has creeped up in our thinking. This is when we are unable to think clearly. We are unable to make trade-offs that need to be made. This is when paralysis by analysis takes route. We start doubting everything including our ability to steer the ship. The biggest challenge here is that it is extremely difficult to realise that we are in the clutches of this kind of complexity.

However, if this is a result of deliberate attempt on our part to cultivate our ability to engage in Janusian thinking, this is a good thing, As this allows us to not only make strategic trade-off’s, but allows us to hold opposing and contrarian views at the same time when making decisions. This gives us the ability to build in nuances in our decisions which are difficult to counter. This is when we are able to tackle multiple challenges with a single, simple and elegant solution.  As F. Scott Fitzgerald famously put it:

“The ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function is the sign of a first-rate intelligence.”

Conclusion:

Typically each one of these complexities will arrive in your business every time we grow our business by Five times. We need to be prepared and expect these complexities and be ready for them. We live in a world full of turmoil and complexity. It impacts everyone – us entrepreneurs, more than anyone else. Great entrepreneurs don’t run from chaos, they run towards it. As there is always a lot of opportunity amongst chaos.

How we manage each one of these complexities define how far we will grow as a business. I have in the past also shared a different model (Heart-beat Model of sustainable growth) of running a business which allows us to not only expect these complexities but plan and exploit them instead.

Importance of Silence and Reflection in the Life of an Entrepreneur

Premise:

We are living in a world where there are just too many demands on our attention as entrepreneurs. There is the internal chatter about our people, products, processes, etc. Then there is the external chatter of marketing, networking, selling and to top it all off, there is social media and NEWS (fake or otherwise). Add to this there is a huge movement about increasing productivity. Every other blog (at times, this one included) tries to gives us hacks that can help us increase our productivity. So, in this environment, it is quite natural for us to try to use all our time and attention to maximise our productivity.

However, it is critical that we don’t get sucked into this seemingly logical thing to do.

Importance of Silence:

One of the most important things for us, as entrepreneurs, is our ability to make connections that others miss, see opportunities that others are blind to and be creative. Generating good ideas and connections requires us to look at things from different perspectives, which can happen when we give ourselves some quiet time, to think and reflect. It is this reflection that gives us the ability to connect seemingly unconnected stuff. It is reflection that enables us to bring our best creative self.

Author JK Rowling, biographer Walter Isaacson, and psychiatrist Carl Jung all have a practices for managing the information flow and cultivating periods of deep silence. Cal Newport talks about how he has stayed away from social media and does what he calls Deep Work (You can listen to my podcast with him here) that allows him to be super-productive at what he does.

Recent studies are showing that taking time for silence restores our nervous system, much like deep sleep. Silence is our pathway that allows us to get into contemplative states. It is during this state that we allow our minds to tap into our sub-conscious, creating the opportunity for connections of apparently random stuff, thereby allowing us to be creative.

Cultivating silence, as Hal Gregersen writes in a recent HBR article,  “increase[s] your chances of encountering novel ideas and information and discerning weak signals.” When we’re constantly fixated on what to say/write/tweet next, it’s tough to make room for truly different perspectives or radically new ideas.

If you are a typical entrepreneur, you will also find embracing silence to be extremely difficult and irritating.  What we need to understand is that cultivating silence isn’t just about getting away from social media or office chatter but it is ow we make time for reflection. When used well, it can also help us become better listener and increase out mindfulness.

We also need to understand the work pressures that we have to deal with and so it is critical that we are intentional in our need to set time for reflections. So, we need to put in place deliberate practices that create opportunities for us to incorporate silence  in our incredibly busy schedules.

Here are four practical ideas that can help us:

1. Two Minutes of silence before every meeting:

We can all do really well if we can have at least 2 mins (ideally 5 mins) of silence before any meeting that we attend. We can use this to meditate or even take some deep breaths. We could use this 2 minutes to reflect on what we are trying to achieve from this meeting. We can even think about what kind of mental state do we want to be during this meeting. Imagining how would someone we really admire run this meeting, puts us in the right frame of mind for the meeting. This also makes every meeting that we attend intentional. If we can’t come up with our objective for the meeting, we can start to re-look if that meeting needs to remain on our calendars. This also helps us defeat attention residue. It is now well-known that when we switch from one task to another, there is a short period of time when we are carrying our attention from the previous task into the current task. By taking the 2 mins silence between every meeting, we force ourselves to get rid of this attention residue thereby being fully available for the current meeting.

2. Movement:

A lot of creative people, when asked about their most creative moments talk about moments when they were in motion. For some it is when they are in a shower, for some it is when they are walking or running, For some it is when they are cooking or gardening. Each one of us needs to find out what it is that we could do that provides us the movement and also allows for self-reflection to happen inside of us. We need to schedule this on our calendar as a daily activity. This creates a habit that allows us to reflect on what is happening in our lives, which allows for creativity to emerge.

3. Nature as a companion:

We need not be an outdoor person to go into the lap of mother nature. Once a month nature retreat, where we are all alone, with no distractions, in nature’s lap, is an experience that one needs to have to know its impact. Being immersed in nature can be the easiest option to improving our creative thinking capabilities. Again, this needs to be scheduled and needs to be an activity that we do by ourself. What we could also do, is to take our leadership team into the woods with a clear instruction that each one is expected to contemplate and reflect upon the current reality, struggles and challenges that each one of them is facing. They are not allowed to talk to each other during this afternoon. We could finish the retreat with a social get-together, if it can be arranged in the woods.

4. Go on a media fast 

Try turning off all devices for a day every month. This can be pre-scheduled with information about this shared with everyone who needs to know. We can also set up an emergency protocol, in case someone really needs us. Once this is done, we need to turn off all devices for the day. This includes our phone, tablet devices, television sets and anything else that has a screen. Use this day to connect with everyone around us fully and try to enjoy listening to our ambient noise, irrespective of where we live. The place I live, I have birds chirping in the morning and the traffic noise throughout the day. This allows us the opportunity to disconnect from our work and focus on something else. It is during such disconnection that our sub-conscious continues to work on the different things that we are working on. It is during this time that connections are made and creative ideas emerge. We just need to make sure that we have some way for us to capture these ideas without compromising the media fast.

Conclusion:

The world is getting louder.  We are getting busier. And the demand for creativity is higher than ever. We can use silence and the ability that it provides us to contemplate/reflect to come up with creative ideas and also help us improve our productivity significantly.