Designing in the Era of the Algorithms

I came across this video by Josh Clark where he talks about the challenges and opportunities of designing stuff (products/services) in the era of algorithms.

This is a must watch video if you are currently engaged in developing a product or service which uses machine learning or artificial intelligence. He points out some very interesting places where you could potentially go wrong. Watch, listen, understand and avoid these mistakes.

Hope you like the video and learnt something important.

Are You An Amateur or a Professional?

Today, I read a post by Shane Parrish on his Farnam Street blog and couldnt resist sharing this with you. He tries to explain why some people are ultra successful and some are not, despite having similar knowledge or experience.

He goes on to share that one of the defining aspect that can explain this difference – Mindset.

How we see ourselves matters Click To Tweet

If we consider ourselves professionals, our chances of success goes up significantly. So, what makes one an amateur or a professional. Below is his take on the difference between amateurs and professionals.

Most of us are just amateurs.

Amateurs stop when they achieve something. Professionals understand that the initial achievement is just the beginning.

Amateurs have a goal. Professionals have a process.

Amateurs think they are good at everything. Professionals understand their circles of competence.

Amateurs see feedback and coaching as someone criticizing them as a person. Professionals know they have weak spots and seek out thoughtful criticism.

Amateurs value isolated performance. Think about the receiver who catches the ball once on a difficult throw. Professionals value consistency. Can I catch the ball in the same situation 9 times out of 10?

Amateurs give up at the first sign of trouble and assume they’re failures. Professionals see failure as part of the path to growth and mastery.

Amateurs don’t have any idea what improves the odds of achieving good outcomes. Professionals do.

Amateurs show up to practice to have fun. Professionals realize that what happens in practice happens in games.

Amateurs focus on identifying their weaknesses and improving them. Professionals focus on their strengths and on finding people who are strong where they are weak.

Amateurs think knowledge is power. Professionals pass on wisdom and advice.

Amateurs focus on being right. Professionals focus on getting the best outcome.

Amateurs focus on first-level thinking. Professionals focus on second-level thinking.

Amateurs think good outcomes are the result of their brilliance. Professionals understand when outcomes are the result of luck.

Amateurs focus on the short term. Professionals focus on the long term.

Amateurs focus on tearing other people down. Professionals focus on making everyone better.

Amateurs make decisions in committees so there is no one person responsible if things go wrong. Professionals make decisions as individuals and accept responsibility.

Amateurs blame others. Professionals accept responsibility.

Amateurs show up inconsistently. Professionals show up every day.

There are a host of other differences, but they can effectively be boiled down to two things: fear and reality.

Amateurs believe that the world should work the way they want it to. Professionals realize that they have to work with the world as they find it. Amateurs are scared — scared to be vulnerable and honest with themselves. Professionals feel like they are capable of handling almost anything.

Questions we need to ask is the following:

In which area of our lives are we acting like a professional and where do we act as amateurs? Which areas of our lives do need to become a professional in?

Here is the original blog:

The Difference Between Amateurs and Professionals

This is one blog that I recommend everyone of us to read and follow. IF you do nothing but read everything that is written on this blog, you will end up much smarter than you start with.

 

Making Procrastination Work FOR US and NOT Against US

At one point or another, I am sure that we have all procrastinated about something – deciding to go out on our own as entrepreneurs, preparing for our exams, having that difficult conversation or exercising. I know and see procrastination as a constant companion and a part of our lives, whether we like it or not.  As I am writing this, I am procrastinating on creating an online course that I have been wanted to create since the start of the year. Now, is it good that I have procrastinated about this particular project? I don’t know. Time will tell.

That is a negative stigma attached to procrastination. As with everything else in life, there are three aspects to procrastination – The good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good:

There could be many reasons why procrastination is good.

>> Procrastination can be an indication of something that our subconscious knows but the conscious mind doesn’t know yet. It works as a great danger sign or an alarm to beware of. For example, if you have been procrastinating about doing a specific task on a project for a long time, maybe it is time for you to think if this project or task is really that important. If we still think that the task or project is important, what comes after procrastination can help us finish the task quickly and decisively.

>> Studies have shown the over-estimate how much you can accomplish in the short-term and under-estimate how much we can accomplish over the long-term. What this means is that in the shot-term, we take on many things and tasks hoping to accomplish them all. Our procrastination helps us in prioritising the most important tasks automatically.  

>> In his book Originals, Adam grant goes on  to show how procrastination leads to increased creativity. He shares many examples, the most famous of which is the “I have a dream speech”. He goes on to claim that many of the highly creative people were active procrastinators. 

The Bad:

There are a lot of reasons why procrastination can be bad for us.

>> Putting things off even though we consider them to be important is something can lead us to a position of  frustration and anger.

>> It could lead to missed deadlines and opportunities.

>> If we think of procrastination in her team context, it can have an adverse effect on the productivity of the team and interpersonal challenges.

The Ugly:

In certain situations procrastination can have a really adverse impact.

If the procrastinating on a certain task or project by wasting our time and not doing anything else that is important or urgent, the run the risk of not achieving anything that we set out to do.

We all know people who had tremendous potential but never realised their potential. We do not want to be one of them. If we procrastinate on every task or project that we Want to do, it could be a sign of deeper psychological issues like depression or anxiety. This needs to be taken care of immediately.

Now, the question is the following:

What can we do to make procrastination work for us. 

Self-awareness:

The first step is to understand when and why we procrastinate. Once we know this, we can design our lives in a way that we use procrastination as a strength that can help us get a lot more done and done with a lot more creativity. We need to look for potential reasons why are procrastinating. Some times we don’t even know or realise that we are procrastinating. We also need to look out for signs or behaviour patterns that can shed light on tasks or projects that we consistently procrastinate about. Once we find these tasks or activities, we need to find a way to either make them fun to do or delegate them to our bosses or some one in our team.

Seeking Help:

Some times it is important to seek help from our teams to find out if there are certain tasks that we seem to consistently procrastinate about. Sometimes, we need someone to help us identify and go to the root of our procrastinating behaviour to alleviate ourselves of the underlying issue, so we don’t procrastinate on that specific task. Sometimes, it’s just that we are not fully trained to complete the task comprehensively and so we end up procrastination. In that case, it is obvious that we need to seek help so we can get trained to complete the work.

When good-enough is good enough:

One other reason why we procrastinate, is because we want to do the task or project perfectly. This quest for perfection is something that can keep us from finishing what we started. This could be a source of procrastination. We need to learn that perfection is an ever-moving target and it is ok to stop our pursuit for perfection and instead settle for good enough.

We need to understand that good enough is mostly good enough, until it is not. We need to know the difference between when it is enough and when it is not. We would do well to find some external help to help us answer this question, as we will be biased (if we are the kind who wants or likes perfection in everything).

Break down projects or tasks:

At times, we procrastinate because we don’t know where to start and how to start. So, when we decide to do take on a task or a project, if we can decide what the next steps are, right at the start of the project, it can be a big help. The same way, we need to breakdown complex tasks or projects into something that is simple enough to be handled simply and quickly.

Deadlines & Commitment devices:

What motivates and gets a procrastinator a shot and gets us to do our best work is deadlines. If we have clear deadlines for the project and the associated tasks (broken down into manageable chunks), we will get back into action and complete the tasks. Put in commitment devices to force you to do certain tasks which we are sure that we will procrastinate on.

For example, if we know that exercising is really important and we don’t really like exercising, we can create commitment devices to ensure that we do exercise daily. One such device could be hiring a personal trainer for a year and ask them to come home every single day or commit to exercising with someone every day or donate 10 USD to a charity or a politician that you don’t really like for every day that we don’t exercise. Make this automatic, so that you can’t reverse it. There are technological tools available for you to get these kinds of devices set up. 

Getting Started:

Sometimes we procrastinate when the task that we want to get done is not fun and is plain boring. If that is the root cause of our procrastination, there are two simple ways we tackle this.

>> Introduce an element of fun into the task. For example, if we dont like doing grocery shopping in the nearby mall, we can instigate a game out of it – challenge ourselves to complete the entire activity in half the time that it usually takes us or something similar.

>> One other way is that we set ourselves a specific time limit for us to do this task. Once the time is up, we stop doing until it is time to do it again. This tells our brain that it is only for a small duration of time that we need to do this is task and we give ourselves the permission to stop at that time. We can use the pomodoro technique here for this purpose.

Either ways, getting started is the key to beat procrastination.

Fear of Failure:

The most important reason why we procrastinate is our fear of failure. We dont want to be found short of. We are fine to tell ourselves that if we wanted to do something, we we can do it, if only we tried. We don’t like to try and find out that we were not as good as we thought we were. This fear of failure or the need to tell ourselves that we can do whatever we want to, if only we put ourselves to it.

Dealing with the fear of failure is a blog in and of itself. However, the most basic and fundamental way to deal with this is to get philosophical. We need to understand that failure is not a person, its an event. Just like any event, it will come and go. Also, we need to tell ourselves is that we can only control what we do. The result of what we do is not in our control. Once, we accept this reality, it becomes much easier to handle this fear and get started.

In conclusion:

As I said at the start of this post, procrastination is an inherently human trait, but we can use it to our advantage rather than suffering due to its presence. We need to become self-aware of what, where and why we procrastinate. Once we have done that, we can put in place strategies, structures and processes to ensure that our procrastinator works for us rather than against us.

This post is inspired by this post on the Strategic Coach.

PS: Here are some videos that you will enjoy on this topic:

Inside the mind of a master procrastinator – A hilarious TED Talk by Tim Urban 

Procrastination: The Hidden Benefits of Putting Things Off

PROCRASTINATION – The Musical

HSBC – Procrastination 60 from Cartel on Vimeo.

Procrastination from Johnny Kelly on Vimeo.

How To Overcome Procrastination from Stuart Langfield on Vimeo.

The Day Before. A Film about Procrastination. from David Weigert on Vimeo.

 

 

 

7 Practices of Highly Inspired People

I have been writing every for this blog for the past 20 days and every time I open up my laptop to write, I don’t necessarily have an idea that I want to write about. I need some kind of an inspiration, some seed of a thought which can then go on to become a blog post. This is what writers call inspiration. As entrepreneurs, we our productivity and effectiveness is at its highest when we are inspired. So it is with our team mates.

All creative ideas have an inspiration as their seed. Someone somewhere was inspired by someone/something that led him/her to come up and express their creativity. As entrepreneurs, we know the importance of creativity in our pursuit. We are constantly facing challenging situations that need to be solved. The more creative and practical our solutions, the more success we can see in our enterprise. This is as much true for us as leaders as much it is for our teams.

All kinds of artists and entrepreneurs are always looking for inspiration or as they call it – their muse. There are times when something comes together in our minds rather suddenly and strangely.

The question then to ask ourselves is the following:

Is it possible for us to find inspiration & thereafter stay inspired? Can we do it on-demand?

Can we create an environment where not just us, but everyone in the environment can access inspiration on-demand?

I believe that the answer to all these questions is a resounding “Yes”. I can tell this with some authority as I have been able to find inspiration to create something every single day for the past 30 days as a result of some practices that I have put in place in my live. I can tell this with authority as I know of a lot of artists and entrepreneurs have done this in their lives from which I have learnt a lot. I can tell this with authority as there is a lot of scientific research that has show that this is possible. 

Before we start talking about practices to find inspiration on-demand, lets first try to understand what inspiration actually is. Every time we come across a new set of information or a fresh idea, the way our brains process them is that it creates a new neural pathway that corresponds to this idea. Now, almost all neural pathway is connected to all other pathways. The question is for us to find some of these interesting connection.

We say we are inspired by something, when unwittingly our brain has found a new neural pathway from one known pathway to another known pathway. So, almost all new inspiration is about finding new neural pathways from one existing idea to another. This can happen by connecting one idea with another, combining different ideas, subtracting something from one idea or even a combination of all of these tricks. The most fundamental thing here is that we need to be exposed to a lot of different ideas.

Once when someone asked me about how to get new ideas, I had responded that in order to get new ideas, you need a lot of old ideas. Every idea that we come across is filed away in our brain and is similar to an alphabet in our language. We are able to combine these alphabets to come up with words (first simple, then complex) and build our vocabulary. We can then use these words to come up with sentences and then combine these sentences to come up with paragraphs, stories, poetry and so and so forth. So, the more ideas that we are exposed to, the more chances we have of coming up with an inspired idea.

Being inspired is a state of mind.

Creating conditions for inspiration is about finding and accessing the states of mind that works best for us. Knowing this, here are some practices that I have put in place in my life to find inspiration on-demand.

Practice 1: The Practice Intentionality:

The first practice is all about noticing thing all around us. There are ideas all around us. The way someone is dressed, the advertisement that we saw on TV, the way something is on display in a shop, the way a speaker presented his idea, the story your child told you about her school, the way a dancer moved on stage, the way a musician composed his song, etc.. The list goes on and on. There are ideas all around us. What we need to do is be intentional about noticing these ideas.

Practice 2: The Practice of Diversity:

As i have already indicated, in order to be inspired, we need to allow our brains to connect disparate information together, which means that we need to expose ourselves to diverse and disparate information from different sources. If we only read the same stuff everyday, watch the same shows on TV, take the same route to office everyday, see the same friends, work in the same industry, we are ensuring that we will not have the diverse inputs needed for us to be and stay inspired.

So, we need to read different kinds of stuff, watch different kinds of shows, visit new places, take different routes to office, work in different industries or at least meet with people who are not very similar to us and our appraoch to life. We need to mix things up intentionally.

I know people who pick up magazines specifically not targetted for them, attend conferences which have nothing to do with their industry or the kind of work they do. I myself have a reading list that is varied and consists of material and topics that is no way connected to the work that i do. Yet, my brain always finds a connection between what I do and what i read. That is the job of my brain that it does really well.

Practice 3: The Practice of Reflection:

Once we notice things around us, we then need to find a way to capture and reflect on these ideas. We could capture them by clicking a picture, taking a video, making a note (audio or text), connecting this idea with something that we already deeply care about. I use all of these methods to capture ideas – click pictures/videos, make notes (text or audio), save something on my Evernote (stuff that I find interesting online), etc.

The key here is that we need to go back to these ideas on a regular basis so that we are able to create neural pathways to these ideas and can retrieve them on-demand when needed.

Practice 4: The Practice of Brahmanian Thinking:

In Hindu mythology, there are three gods who are the “Trinity”. One of them, Brahma, the creator, is supposed to have 4 heads, one in each direction. I consider that as an analogy for us to learn to see and think from different perspectives before creating anything new. This holds true for all creative ideas.

The practice of looking at the same thing from different angles and perspectives offers us a great deal of more information that can then trigger new ideas. It is important for us to build this habit intentionally. This is the key practice if we are to be able to make unusual connection. If we see the same thing that everyone else sees, we will come to the same conclusion that everyone else is coming to and thereby we will come up the same kinds of ideas that everyone else is coming up with.

Practice 5: The Practice of Reframing:

Another way to ensure that we are able to speed up the ability to connect disparate ideas and inputs to form new, creative and inspired stuff is by practicing the art of reframing. Our brain functions in a way that it frames everything that it encounters in one way or another. Add to this that the way our brain functions is that if we pose a question, it is conditioned to work towards finding an answer.

So, If we can find a way to frame the question or the problem differently than what was originally posed, we are able to solve it differently as well. There are different ways to reframe any challenge or issues or problems.

We can reframe by changing the context in which the problem is being faced, by changing the person whose point of view is being used to solve the problem and similar.

Practice 6: The Practice of  Constraints:

One of the ways that we can force ourselves to come up with interesting and unique ideas or feel inspired is when we introduce new constraints. This again is how our brains function. If i were to ask you to list 25 items that are white in colour in your home, you might take longer to answer if I just asked you to list 25 items that are white in colour in your kitchen. This is just how our brains work.

So, if we are looking for an inspiration for something, we will do better if we introduce new constraints in our thinking. This could come in many forms – we need ideas that use sound/music, will use comedy, will make use of children, needs to cost us under a certain cost or needs to use a specific color even. The idea is to move between different constraints to see if any of them inspire us to come up with something really unique and inspired.

Practice 7: The Practice of Practice:

The last but the most important practice to getting and staying inspired is to practice being inspired. We need to constantly work our muscles of creativity and inspiration. As most inspired creators will tell you, they need to build in rituals and habits of getting and staying inspired. This is also like a muscle. The more we practice, the stronger it gets.

In short, we need to practice getting inspired on a daily basis. We can’t do the work every single day by practicing all these practices and expect to get inspired on-demand. This is the work-ethic that is needed to get and stay inspired.

When inspiration does not come to me, I go halfway to meet it  -Freud

In Conclusion:

There are a lot of things that we can do to get and stay inspired on-demand. There is also a lot that we can do to create an environment that allows us to create a culture where our teams can get and stay inspired on-demand.
I will delve deeper into how to create a culture where teams can get and stay inspired in a separate post shortly.
Btw, this post was also inspired by a post by  on here.

10 Things to Practice Everyday

Move:

If there is one set of actions that can have disproportionate benefit for us, then it has to be movement. Our body is not designed to remain seated for long hours. It has been known for ages it is better to keep moving through out the day rather than exercising for an hour and not doing any physical movement for rest of the day.

Our body craves movement.

It is well-known that women around the world outlive men and are also less likely to suffer from fatal chronic diseases. There are many theories for the reasons this happens, but in my opinion one of the reason they do so is because they move more than men do. They are physically more active (not necessarily) through exercises but by generally moving about much more than men do. Even Simple activities like cooking, cleaning, washing, shopping and spending more time standing than sitting everyday can have significant impact on their health. So, even if you can’t find more time to do exercise, find reasons to move about through the day.

Practice Gratitude:

We live in a world that allows for constant comparisons with everyone else that we know of. Social media allows us to create a facade of happiness and success even if we don’t feel the happiness or success in our real lives.

There is an illusion that there is always someone who is more successful than us, who vacations in better places than us, has a more loving spouse and is happier than us. We can’t help but compare ourselves with those around us. This is an inbuilt function that is extremely difficult to switch off.

What we can do is to counter the feeling of inadequacy  with a practice of gratitude.

We could also look at all that we have with us that we can be grateful for – a stable job, decent health, a caring family, three meals a day, a home to stay, a smart phone and a Facebook or Instagram account to stay connected with our friends, the ability to make a difference in millions of lives and a peaceful city to live in.

We can also be grateful for good books, great pieces of art, soul wrenching music, beauty around us in nature… We get the point.

If we go looking out for things for which we can be grateful for, there is an abundance of these. So, lets start a practice of being grateful for at least 3 things every single day. This by itself has the ability to make a significant impact on our stress levels.

Be Present:

We are living in a generation where there are a million things that we could be doing at every given moment. The combination of a smart phone and its ability to connect to the internet has enabled this single device to offer us a never-ending stream of information that can both keep us entertained or engaged.

Add to this the proliferation of screens connected to internet all around us, which can identify who we are and tailor what they show based on our likes and preferences.

Add to this our very own conditioned minds which either worry about something could potentially happen in the future or about something that just happened.

All of these forces work to make it extremely difficult for us to stay in the present moment. It not only takes practice but we also need to plan and work towards living in the present moment.

This is not very difficult as every child can do it with ease but as we grow older, we tend to lose this ability as we don’t use it as much as we used it while we were kids.

It’s not that difficult as people make it out to be, if we learn how to do this.

The trick here is to use a reminder to check if we are fully present in the moment or not. It could be as simple as our watch or even our phones. We just need to train our minds to think of this question every time we see, touch or think about this item. Once we check, we just bring ourselves to the present moment. 

Plan:

Life is full of paradoxes, some apparent and some not so apparent. While it is very important to live in the present moment, we also need to be able to deliberate about what we want to pay attention to and what we need to avoid.

This means that we need to have a clear idea about what we want to achieve on any given day. This goes on to show that we need to have a goal we are working towards. We need to have an overarching destination towards which we are moving and we need to identify the most important actions that we need to take every single day that will move us closer to the goal.

If we are not deliberate about how we spend our time and our daily activity, we can be sure that our destination will most likely remain out of reach.

So, have a plan. We can change the plan as we go along through the day but we need to have a plan to start the day.

One of the best way to plan that I have seen work really well is the one suggested by Stephen Covey. We start with an overarching goal, then break it down into yearly, quarterly and monthly goalposts. Then we identify the actions that we need to take on a regular basis and block them out on a weekly basis. This becomes sacrosanct and everything else can take up all the other available time. We work on the big rocks first. 

Say No:

I know too many people who are stressed out and constantly anxious as they take on much more than they can handle.

They either haven’t learnt to say no or are afraid of saying “No”.

This is another one of the skills that if developed well can have significant impact on our stress and happiness levels.

Saying “No” is by itself an art that we need to practice and learn.

The better we get at this the more opportunities we will have to say “Yes” to the things that we really want to do and can provide meaning to us.

Have Fun

Having fun as an adult is under-rated.

As we grow into adults, there is an overbearing expectation that we need to behave in a certain manner and all other behaviours are not acceptable. This need and compulsion to comply to social expectation has meant that we have forgotten to find happiness in the smallest things in life.

I used to love getting wet in the first rain of the rainy season while growing up. I still would love to do that. The moment I bring it up as an option, people around me immediately respond with the quip – “Grow up” or “Stop behaving like a kid”.

Somehow, as a society we have set expectations that adults can have fun only in certain activities. All other activities are banned for us once we grow up.

How absurd!

Now, I am not advocating that each one of us needs to go out and start behaving like kids again. What I am advocating is that we need to find out what fun means for us and go have fun that way.

What I am advocating is that

We should not just plan to have fun during the weekend or holidays or after office hours. We need to plan and have fun every single day.

Learn:

Research has shown that we can continue to grow brain mass and new neural connections even after we have grown up. Research has also shown that someone with an active brain can avoid diseases like ALS or Alzheimer’s.

Add to this the pace of change around us. Every day, there is something new being invented. Everyday there is something new to read about. Everyday there is something new to learn.I have a long reading list that I try to cover every single day.

One of the ways to learn every single day is to reflect on the day at the end of the day.

This is a process by which we can learn from every single day of our lives. We can learn about people around us, we can learn about our own decision-making process, we can learn about how our teams think and act. We can learn about the challenges that we faced. We can learn about patterns that we would otherwise miss. Let’s try and learn something new everyday.

Empathise:

One of the qualities that make us inherently human is our ability to empathise with our fellow humans.

This is a unique ability that if honed and used well can help improve our relationships significantly. We don’t need any research to know that the biggest stress for all of us arises from our relationships with others – spouse, parents, kids, employees, managers, government officials, etc.

If we are able to empathise with others, we can significantly reduce the friction caused due to mis-understandings cause within relationships.

Also, this can help us build better products, make us better leaders, sell more effectively. Overall, great RoI for a simple skill.

The key is that this is also similar to any other muscle that we have in our body. The more we exercise this muscle, the stronger it becomes.

With daily practice, we can continue to get better at empthizing, irrespective of how good we are to start with. 

Be Patient:

We live in an era where we want everything instantly. We like instant coffee. We like instant entertainment (streaming music/video wherever we are). We like instant knowledge (Google, Wiki, Books on Kindle). We have lost our ability to wait for anything. The moment we have to wait in a queue to get our groceries billed and it takes a few minutes extra for the clerk and we get impatient and reach for our phones.

Most good things in life take time. 

It takes time to write and publish a good book. It takes time to give birth to another human. IT takes time to plant and grow a vineyard. It takes time to make a movie. It takes time to build a business. It takes time to convince and move people. It takes time to transform an organisation or a nation. We need to learn to be patient. This is again a muscle. The more we practice, the better we get at it.

Travel:

It is well-known that travelling is good for us in many ways. When we are travelling and in an alien land, our ability to stay in the present is heightened.

We allow ourselves to become our curious self.

We observe things much more than otherwise. We move outside our monotonous auto-mode of existence. This is exciting. It can also be a lot of fun.

You also learn a lot through these observations. You are also able to build a database of ideas which you can then mix and match with other ideas in your mind already and come up with new ideas when needed.

Travel also teaches us humility and a lot about ourselves and our comfort zones.

This post was inspired by a post by Anthony Iannarino on his blog here.