this year


This year I learned some.
Read few good books.
Watched some good movies.
Discovered good music and made some new favorites.
Listened to new podcasts.
Wrote a bit.
Did yoga for 6 months.
Fought some, lost some and won a few battles.
Made some mistakes.
Felt host of emotions.
Scored a winning goal.
Made wine.
Cooked some new “dishes”
Traveled to few countries
Made few friends

Here's to a new year!

possibilities


So many possibilities exist for all of us. At any given moment. To make another choice, to take a different path, to make a difference to our lives and to others. Inertia, customs, duties, responsibilities, society – all words to tie us down.

Wish we can simplify every thought, action and interaction. No pretenses and be original, bare, raw human. Find bliss in that. Say what we know and what we don’t know. Express our feelings without needing to explain why we are feeling that way or feeling guilty of that feeling.

Wish we can accept people for who they are, see the good in them and amplify that. Simple powers to subtly lead someone to be a better version of themselves.

Wish we can show people endless possibilities in front of them. Lives which will be lived in eternal monotony can be nudged ever so gently to fulfillment. Find the larger purpose and meaning of our lives and others.

-- After reading Totochan. Teaching is such a holy profession, so undervalued atleast in my part of the world. So much can be done, so many lives can be touched in a fundamental way.

the lowland


What makes people absolutely hate someone? What actions we do permanently affects trajectory of someone else's life and be the reason for everything else they do or don't do for rest of their lives? Should we have that kind of influence on someone or should we allow to have someone occupy our thoughts and actions so deeply? Why can't we forget and forgive - it is so liberating, even then? Is being kind even with people who wronged us weak? What actions are unpardonable - even from a victim and even when it is justifiable? Why don't we speak about our emotions, reason it out with another person, even when we are not sure of it and try to discover why we feel what we feel and get out of mental knots that prevent us from being free?

Every person has a story, untold to anyone else in the world and unknowable to the world. Some stories we live with and take to our graves. It cannot be told to the loved ones to avoid hurting them, postponed for the right time which maybe forever. Everyone has such bundles. I read somewhere that be kind to people as we don't know what they are going through. Adulthood and maturity are masks earned for hiding the inner turmoil effectively. In that respect, everyone is a hero too. Sacrifices and choices made for others and oneself, long journeys spanning decades nursing wounds and still smiling.

I wonder how the twilight of our lives will be? Who will be around and how the stories end? In the end everything is pardoned and nothing else matters anymore and world moves on as if none of it ever mattered.    


- after reading "The Lowland" by Jhumpa Lahiri

Can't have two faces..


There is something called radical honesty - being truthful in every situation. But can truth have various versions? How do we know if what we know as truth is the only version of it? Should we constantly doubt our own versions of the truth and modify it? How can we not become delusional, pedantic or radical by believing only our version of the truth and stop being open to accept other versions or variations? Should there be balance in saying the truth? Should we be silent sometimes when the truth can hurt someone? Is white lies ok to avoid hurting someone? How do we know if we are not slipping down our moral thresholds if we push the limit of not telling the truth, too far? Doesn't truth change over time - with expansion of the view point, more data being available? A sudden emergency, a catastrophe suddenly brings clarity to us that some truths should have been said early, somethings shouldn't have been ignored. But at the same time, when should truth telling be sweetened to avoid hurting egos vs when should it be plainly told to make the impact felt? Is there a bigger truth vs smaller truth? With whom can you tell the truth and with whom should you not? With someone if you can't tell the truth openly, what does that mean for the relationship? Should you be kind with even enemies and avoid hurting their ego? Should you be kinder with your loved ones and protect them from some harsh realities by not revealing everything? When should you withhold and when should you reveal? How should you say the truth? Saying it in one way vs the other changes the truth or the acceptance of it? Should there be a purpose to telling the truth? Saying the truth or lie for one's own benefit or for the sake of another - does it change how we choose to do it? 

How to suppress emotions, like a man?


- Never talk about it with anyone. In groups talk about only serious subjects like economics, politics and sports. Condition oneself.
- Set expectations and live up to it - calm under any circumstances, always be "rational". Act as if you know everything and have any situation under control.
- Anger and Pride are allowed since it matches with the expectations.
- Any signs of breach of these, fight back / avoid / ignore so that the moment passes and one can forget about it and move on.
- What is past is past, never analyze too much, think too much or talk too much.
- Talk about objects, not subjects. Don't get into details, keep it short. 

emotional vs rational


I watched Before Midnight. While this is watchable on its own before going through its prequels (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset), now I want to go back and watch the other two once more. This has fast paced dialogues, lot to think about. One particular part is below.

Jesse: So this is how you now want to be spending this evening? I mean, this is what you wanna do tonight?
Céline: Well, you started it.
Jesse: No. You are the one who will not shut up about it. But if you want to talk about it, I mean, really talk about it. I would prefer to have an unemotional, rational conversation. I mean, do you think we can do that? Would that be possible?
Céline: Here we go. Unemotional, rational. You always play the part of the one and only rational one and I'm the irrational, hysterical, hormone-crazy one because I have emotions. Yeah, you sit back and you speak from your big perspective which means everything you say is level-headed and true.
Jesse: I don't always do anything.
Céline: The world is **ed by unemotional rational men deciding shit, alright? Politicians going to war for no reason, corporate heads deciding to wreck the environment, Cheney, Rumsfeld - very rational men.
Jesse: Cheney and Rumsfeld? Yeah, okay.
Céline: The final solution? Very rational thinking behind it.

I have used this argument in similar way like Jesse did (now I realize it may have been just when it suited me) as well as it was given to me in reverse as well – to be rational and not emotional. But is that just an excuse to ignore the humane side of the issues, rather than going levels deeper into issues, ignore the nuances and make a sweeping generalization – is rationalization a crutch for that? Heart decides better in some situations than the brain. Or in other words trusting intuition in some cases leads to better/faster decisions than the analytical reasoning. Or what happens in cases where rational and cunning leaders stoke the fires to get a mass to act on their raw emotions and ignore reason – that’s even more devious. Better alternative is to balance? – cases where emotion, intuition, gut and muscle memory guides decisions and it is ok vs cases that need to weigh options, conduct analysis and research, get new knowledge and then make a decision. Goes back to System 1 / System 2 of Daniel Kahneman. Best not to use this theory in a heated domestic dispute anyway – emotions need to be addressed.. 😊

change thinking


14 ways to change thinking

  1. Exercise – exercise releases endorphins and dopamine and it makes you feel good. When you feel good, you can think better.
  2. Put your brain in debugging mode (@naval) – “catch and debug your thoughts as it streams by, catch it when it goes into past regretting or future planning, make it stay in the present”
  3. Read unconventionally – multi disciplinary thinking can give us more ideas, like something that works well in medicine can be applied in software engineering etc. Read widely.
  4. Follow people who read widely – to get filtered new good reads – like @farnamstreet, @naval, @brainpicker, @morganhousel, @paulg and more
  5. Listen to podcasts – for new ideas, for listening to people from different domains - @timferrissShow, @farnamstreet, @Radiolab and more
  6. Quit harmful social media – pull the plug and quit facebook, whatsapp groups, occasionally unfollow everyone in twitter and start from scratch, avoid echo chambers where same ideas and ideologies reverberate without anyone challenging it
  7. Quit news – cable news and print – there is responsible long form journalism, find some for real nuanced treatment of world events
  8. Write – because “Writing is often the process by which you realize that you do not understand what you are talking about.”
  9. Sleep – because brain under good sleep can create new neural associations and fresh awake brain can think better
  10. Eat right – because vitamin deficiencies can amplify anxieties – break the cycle  
  11. Break routines, form new habits – change habits, try new routines, change the systems – to trick the brain to let go of some muscle memory and inertia
  12. Movies, music and fiction – expose the brain to new visual and auditory experiences, about other people and lives, about sounds and sights other than what we see every day, different languages, cultures, countries – make new favorites
  13. Listen deeply – “seek first to understand, than to be understood"
  14. Travel - helps to break routines, experience new cultures, new sights and sounds and make new associations 

റിസര്‍ച്ച്


“പെണ്ണുങ്ങള്‍ മള്‍ട്ടിടാസ്കിങ്ങില്‍ മിടുക്കരാണെന്നാ വയ്പ്.”
“ആരു പറഞ്ഞു?”
“റിസര്‍ച്ച് ഉണ്ട്.”
“എന്നാല്‍ ഞാന്‍ പെണ്ണല്ല. എനിക്ക് മള്‍ട്ടിടാസ്കിംഗ് പറ്റില്ല.”
അപ്പുറത്തു നിന്ന് കമന്റ്‌ “അമ്മ ആണാണെന്നാണോ പറയുന്നത്?”
“അതെന്തായാലും ആവണ്ട”
..
“അതിരിക്കട്ടേ.. ആണുങ്ങള്‍ക്ക് വീട്ടുകാര്യത്തില്‍ അല്‍പ്പം കൂടെ ശ്രദ്ധ വേണമെന്ന് റിസര്‍ച്ച് ഉണ്ടോ? കണ്ടു കാണില്ല. ആവശ്യമുള്ളത് മാത്രമല്ലേ കാണൂ.”

ദി ഏന്‍ഡ്.                

chatter

"we suffer more in our imagination than reality."

So much chatter goes on in our head. We talk to ourselves more than with any other person in our lifetime. So little of will be known to anyone else, we cannot bear the consequences of letting other people know. So we reason with us, the good part of us trying to be in control and suppressing and improving the ever worrying, criticising, jealous, devious, evil parts. So many layers of defense built up and little that goes out is sometimes by accident when we think someone is trustworthy. That they will see the good and ignore or make the bad better. When they deceive, some more layers of defense adds up, the shell gets thicker and the chances of another person breaking through diminishes further. So every act of unkind behavior causes ripple effect, within the person at receiving and denies chances for others to make up.

What if we break the norms? What if we act kindly to every person we meet? What if we always help first? What if we never defend ourselves - take anything for what it is worth and reject the rest? What if we smile more? What if we share more, if it helps someone else to know it is normal? What if we reach out randomly to fellow passengers in this journey? Even those who look cheerful on the outside may be putting on a massive show. Not just the loners and socially awkward, but what if we connect genuinely to everyone we encounter? Without any expectations. 


- after reading the book "13 reasons why"

listen



“You should go home and sleep.”
“I am listening to these guys talking.”
“From this far away?’
“I am not sure what they are saying, but they’re gonna fight.”
“You’ve good hearing.”
“It’s a habit of mine. I had eye problems when I was little. I couldn’t see well, so I listened. My sight was then corrected, but I never lost the habit of listening. Sometimes I think ears are more important. You “see” better with your ears. You can pretend to look happy, but your voice reveals the truth. Listen closely and you can tell.
“Really?”
“Just like your voice now tells me you’re not happy.”
“So what are they saying over there?”
“I’ll try.”

- Happy Together 

process oriented vs just-get-it-done


There are a lot of cases where balanced and middle view is better, but adopting middle path on everything might lead to average or mediocre outcomes. One such problem is whether to be methodical, process oriented and cautious OR attitude of “get it done”, use whichever way suits the best for achieving the goal and taking risks. I think it is eventually basic nature of people.

I also think either approach works differently for different kind of problems. Doing something new, discovering a solution where none exists, pursuits that calls more creativity – those may call for second approach. Changing a complex system, coordinating efforts of a large group of people to achieve a single goal, size of the problem being big – these may need the process oriented / methodical mindset.

Knowing what kind of person I am on this spectrum of rigidly methodical to flying by the seat of the pants would be a good start. Assessing what kind of mindset is needed to solve the problem in front of us would be second. If we are able to change ourselves to suit the method needed to solve the problem/project, that might be perfect.

Even if we start with System 2 for some projects (greenfield projects), it may need to switch to System 1 once it scales and complexity increases. Similarly even if we start with System 1 for complex mammoth projects, micro problems within that might need inventiveness and System 1 approaches. So shifting between both (not mixing both for problem statement, but changing approach from problem to problem) might be needed.

Questions to ponder upon: Is it possible to change like this from project to project? Is it just better to have different kind of people handle different kind of projects – whichever is best suited for them?

poems

Poems read / liked recently.. 

Khalil Gibran – My Friend masking the madness..  
My friend, thou art good and cautious and wise; nay, thou art
perfect--and I, too, speak with thee wisely and cautiously. And
yet I am mad. But I mask my madness. I would be mad alone.
Khalil Gibran – Half Life It is a good regular reminder, while it is difficult to adhere to.

blue-ish


Weekend playlist is somewhat blue-ish.

No Doubt – Don’t Speak Gwen Stefani is a favorite. In her new avatar outside of the band No Doubt, but I like the No Doubt songs better.
Amy Winehouse – Wake up alone it was her birthday couple of days back. I had written about her sometime back as well.
Cesario Evora – Besame Mucho Spanish experiment continues. Need to discover more.

recent reads


Erin Hanson – a poet in her early 20s, I did not realize someone with so much clarity about might be so young.

Living Hygge, What Hygge really looks like, Denmark dominates the world happiness report – don’t know if such a report can be accurate, but liked the concept of Hygge. Being really present, “intentional intimacy”, shared experiences, slow and conscious, special moments, cosy, relaxing or loving – sounds good. Need to figure out how to have more such moments in life.  

21 quotes from “Call me by your name” – I liked this movie, good quotes.


toxic leadership



I read this extraordinary op-ed by a Trump administration insider. It reinforces what I was thinking about for some time. In our current time, leadership has become a farce. It could be a significant detriment to the world to have such leaders come up on top of organizations and nations. Why is this happening, in spite of a large number of people knowing that this is all illogical, improbable and irrational?

Looking at the words used to describe Trump in this article: worst inclinations, misguided impulses, amorality, not moored to any discernible first principles that guide decision making, little affinity to ideals, impetuous, adversarial, petty, ineffective, whims, veer off topic and off the rails, repetitive rants, half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions, flip-flipped, erratic behavior.

I see more of similar behavior from leaders, may not be such crazy levels. Narcissism, not encouraging feedback, shooting the messenger, prone to exaggeration, lack of humility, hypocrisy, not liking anyone else looking even slightly good, not interested in details, taking rigid positions, simplification, generalization and host of other problems.

I think another factor has amplified the problems that such leadership is inflicting on the world. How we consume information and form opinions have fundamentally changed with social media and such leaders are adept at managing the perceptions through such mechanisms. If both of these combine, it multiples the power.

From the article: “The bigger concern is not what Mr. Trump has done to the presidency but rather what we as a nation have allowed him to do to us. We have sunk low with him and allowed our discourse to be stripped of civility.”

Someone remarked couple of days back that even if Trump shoots someone, it will not change anything. Another was betting that he will still win a second term. I have met people who think in spite of everything, the nation is benefiting overall, so can put up with everything else. A grain of truth inside a mountain of lies still makes people “agree partially”.

Should some of our positions be one or zero, with or against, than partial? How should we avoid getting toxic leaders? How to call them out in clear terms without being stripped of civility and stooping low?  

rabbit holes


Someone tweeted about this spanish song. I didn’t know what it meant and about the music. It was a refreshing / different music. On Sundays, I do the laundry and it is usually with the background of some music. These days it is from youtube - either My Mix which is random or take any of my favorite songs and just hit the Mix option that comes up on the top. It sets me up for an hour or two.

Back to this Spanish song. It is not frequent and easy to discover a new song. I wish there are music recommendation (and book, story and whole lot of other recommendations) which is not algorithm driven (based on what I liked in the past), but a recommendation from a human friend. Share a surprise music recommendation that can set you up for new journey.

I feel it is like falling into a rabbit hole like Alice. Once I started listening to this song, I hit the “Mix” which brought up a whole lot of others. It might be similar songs like those, songs that others liked who also liked the first one etc. I am ok if algorithm does that. I choose the path to go to and let it play the part of the GPS.

Spanish is sweet to listen to. So much so that it is in my bucket list to learn. Now this reminds of that goal. What if I take it up seriously? If so, it would have been a wonderful thing this song would have accomplished – to push me to this rabbit hole that could lead to new adventures beyond similar music. Need more such new paths, atleast alley ways to do detours to once in a while and get lost.

feeling that has no name


There needs to be more words to describe some feelings. Like some random forwards about a single German word or Japanese word describing a feeling that can only be expressed in a sentence in English and still be incomplete.

Like what do you call that feeling that comes every time I see the sky darkening, silence descending, with occasional cries of a bird, a cold breeze, announcing impending rain?  It used to be one distinct feeling, but now with aftermath of what happened in Kerala, I am not sure if it will remain the same. When it just sprinkled the other day, my wife was commenting that now every time there is a mention of rain, it will remind of Ms Rita’s front room that leaks.  

Or the feeling of tightening in the chest of not being able to do anything, not feeling like doing anything, feeling like nothing is worth doing and all is in vain? That cloak of doom should be shaken with a coffee, sharing the wordly worries and have a good laugh with a friend.

Or the feeling of being accused of something and instead of arguing and making it worse, keeping silent, fully knowing that it is quite the opposite and the karma will catch up and reward me later.

Or the feeling of not telling someone about something knowing that it will hurt them, but at the same time not able to do much to prevent it from happening.

Or the feeling of embarking on something not knowing the path, not knowing whether it will succeed, not knowing answers to all the questions, but all the while feeling like it may lead to something wonderful or it may be a spectacular failure.

I should be able to say – yes, I am feeling “this” now, rather than the whole sentences above.

lullaby


What is good to read or hear or watch just before going to bed? I think just right at night is bittersweet. In the morning, need something that can warm the bones and the blood, get the mind hopeful and body ready to run the race of the day. At the end of the day, when one more day has passed away, what is needed is not too happy and not too sad. To cool down the racing mind and to put one to sleep. If I find what is just right, I should put that on endless repeat until I am ready.

Ms Rita


They said her house is In the small alley next to the ex-Minister’s bungalow. They said It is a big house and the yard will be clean since she would have plucked out all the weeds. She stays alone, she is strong willed even though her memory started fading. So if we go in such late evening hour, she may not even open the gate and even if she opens the gate she may not recognize. But we thought we will still try. She had taught my wife moral science for one year, she teaches History normally. Their batch recently collected some money for her. On our way my wife was thinking what to give her, whether there was an envelope. She does everything properly – I wouldn’t have thought of such things. Finally she found some envelopes in her 10 kg handbag that she carries everywhere. It has everything that is needed in any kind of emergencies – from torchlight to stapler. The envelopes were already labeled “Onamshasakal”, which she had written up to give small gifts to anyone who gives any sort of service to us – ladies who collect garbage, Chakki’s bus driver, shopkeeper from whom we buy milk every day. She wanted to add “From all of us”, but did not find a black ink pen, to match the “Onamshasakal”.  Chakki was impatient to finish this off since we were using the time she thought she had to go to the beach.

We parked the car on the side of the road, in front of closed shops – old ones, like the old ration shops, with wooden paneled doors, with tiled roof. First house in the alley on the left was padlocked. It had peeled off paint, but the board on the wall said it was a nursery. Bush taller than me were growing all around the house. Next house looked serene, with a nice yard. I said this is the kind of house I would like to live in. “Yeah, right, next to abandoned houses and plots” came the reply. A house on the left was also locked, overgrown trees, bushes and grass around. We passed another house on the left, we thought that was also abandoned. There was a guy standing ahead of us, looking at us, questioningly as to what we were looking for at this hour. We asked him where her house was. He was on phone and in between pointed at the house which we thought was abandoned. There were knee high grass growing around the house. We noticed then that a light was on inside. Knocked on the gate a few times. I heard an inner door inside getting unlocked. She opened the top half of the door to peer outside. My wife called out “Miss, it is me”. She opened up the door, came out and unlocked the gate. My wife introduced. “Yes, I remember you and your sister. Come in.”. She said she remembers the best students and the worst.   

She was as tall as Chakki. Bobbed hair, mostly white but combed neatly. She might be 80 or 85, did not know exactly. She was wearing a frock like the traditional Anglo-Indians in that area. Her frock was faded and frayed. She was too thin, skin like wrinkled wax. We went into the sitting room. Three wooden chairs, an old showcase with some dusty ornamental show pieces inside. Paint has peeled off, showing yellow and blue and white at places. Slanted wooden ceiling had yellow patches, no ceiling fan. I tried to close the door, but the grills above it would anyway bring in the mosquitoes. Three basins were kept next to the showcase. There were old black and white pictures behind her on the wall. There was an yellow light burning inside somewhere and the rooms were dark.

She dragged a chair and sat facing us. She said her memory is ok. She said she is blind in one eye and can’t see much with the other. She has cataract and glaucoma, she talked about going to eye hospitals 10 years back, prepared to do the surgery and the doctors told her that her nerves were too weak and can’t do surgery and she returned home the same day. They told her she would gradually become blind. Now she can’t read anything other than the headlines in newspaper. She doesn’t watch TV during the day and in the evening tries to watch 7:30 serial. She doesn’t go out at all these days, even to the church. Once in three days, a nephew brings her some provisions. She cooks rice and boiled vegetables in the morning around 11. She will have something left for the dinner which she will heat up. She sleeps around 10, otherwise she may not be able to sleep through the night. She was worrying about the grass growing in the yard. It will take 4 days for someone to clean around the hose and they charge Rs 850 these days for one day of labor. She says there are snakes around, she saw three of them in the back yard, it crosses over the road from other empty plots.

She said the rains were terrible, had never seen anything like this in her life. Her front room leaks. She had to remove the ceiling fan since it burned out. It explains the basins and the peeled off paint. She had to sweep out the standing water three times during the rainy days. She had the tiles replaced with a patch of GI sheet, but it made the leak worse. Now they say they have to replace the entire section to fix it properly. The house is 60 years old, built by her father. It was red stone and lime, not concrete or hollow bricks. She is worried if the entire house will collapse. Ex-minister’s high wall collapsed to her back yard in recent rains and now they are re-building it.

We wondered about the pictures on the wall. She pointed out her mother and father and herself when she got the B.Ed – looking so bright. She wanted to see the pictures of other teachers that my wife had in her phone. She looked at each picture, commented about each. She speaks in matter of fact tone, about everything. About her only sister dying 10 years back after getting gangrene in a leg, getting amputed and passing away in a month and not being able to see her. About even waiting for every day as the last day.

It was dark out when we started from there. We promised Chakki to take her to the beach some other day. My wife was commenting that we should have just cleaned out our wallets and given everything we had on us to her.

Would I live so calmly if I was losing my eyesight and alone? What happens to everyone we know now when it is fading hours of our lives? Who will remember us and does it even matter then?

psychological biases


Listened to the full speech by Charlie Munger (text). I think there are cheat sheets of cognitive biases that I need to add into my mental model and thinking system. Munger talks about psychological biases which we need to be aware of in our own behavior and also would be good to know in dealing with others – if we use these to engineer common good (not to manipulate for evil purposes).

  1. Power of incentives – using incentives to drive behavior. But I guess carrot / stick might work only to certain extent (learning from “Drive”). Examples - FedEx starting night shift allowance which allowed them to get people for night shifts. Reinforcement.
  2. Simple psychological denial - "The reality is too painful to bear, so you just distort it until it's bearable." A mom refusing to believe her son is dead.
  3. “Bias from consistency and commitment tendency, including the tendency to avoid or promptly resolve cognitive dissonance. Includes the self-confirmation tendency of all conclusions, particularly expressed conclusions, and with a special persistence for conclusions that are hard-won.”
“Human mind is a lot like the human egg, and the human egg has a shut-off device. When one sperm gets in, it shuts down so the next one can't get in. The human mind has a big tendency of the same sort.
if you make a public disclosure of your conclusion, you're pounding it into your own head.” 
“The Chinese brainwashing system, which was for war prisoners, was way better than anybody else's. They maneuvered people into making tiny little commitments and declarations, and then they'd slowly build.”
  1. “Bias from Pavlovian association, misconstruing past correlation as a reliable basis for decision-making.” Dog salivates when bell rings. Operant conditioning.
  2. Bias from reciprocation tendency – do a small favor first and ask for return, increases chance of others reciprocating.
  3. Bias from over-influence by social proof, that is, the conclusions of others, particularly under conditions of natural uncertainty and stress. Following what the community / group does or does not do.
  4. Bias from contrast caused distortions of sensation, perception, and cognition. Frog dying in water that is slowly getting heated. People dipping their hand in room temperature water after dipping first in hot or cold feels room temperature water is vice versa. Contrast. Overprice first, then show medium price and people accept.
  5. Bias from over-influence by authority. Milgram prisoner torture experiment. Co-pilot doesn't call out pilot's obvious faults in 25% cases.
  6. Bias from Deprival Super Reaction Syndrome, including bias caused by present or threatened scarcity, including threatened removal of something almost possessed but never possessed. Scarcity bias. People do not react symmetrically to loss and gain. 
  7. Bias from envy/jealousy
  8. Bias from gambling compulsion
  9. Bias from liking distortion, including the tendency to especially like oneself, one's own kind, and one's own idea structures, and the tendency to be especially susceptible to being mislead by someone liked.
  10. Bias from disliking distortion. The reciprocal of liking distortion and the tendency not to learn appropriately from someone disliked.
  11. “Bias from the non-mathematical nature of the human brain in its natural state as it deals with probabilities employing crude heuristics and is often mislead by mere contrast. The tendency to overweigh conveniently available information and other psychological rooted mis-thinking tendencies on this list when the brain should be using the simple probability mathematics of Fermat and Pascal, applied to all reasonably attainable and correctly weighted items of information that are of value in predicting outcomes. 
  12. Bias from over-influence by extra vivid evidence.
  13. “Mental confusion caused by information not arrayed in the mind and theory structures creating sound generalizations, developed in response to the question why. Also mis-influence from information that apparently but not really answers the question why. Also failure to obtain deserved influence caused by not properly explaining why.
    You've got to array facts on theory structures answering the question why. If you don't do that, you cannot handle the world.
    You want to persuade somebody, you really tell them why. And what did we learn in lesson one? Incentives really matter. Vivid evidence really works.”
“The clear answer is the combination greatly increases power to change behavior, compared to the power of merely one tendency acting alone.“ Multiple factors from above can combine in a transaction.  

persian messengers and deaf leaders


I was thinking about someone who is the only deliverer of bad news in a team and a leader who doesn’t want to hear bad news. Chanced upon below quote from the speech – “Psychology of Human Misjudgment” by Charlie Munger (audio).
  
Now you've got Persian messenger syndrome. The Persians really did kill the messenger who brought the bad news. You think that is dead? I mean you should've seen Bill Paley in his last 20 years. He didn't hear one damn thing he didn't want to hear. People knew that it was bad for the messenger to bring Bill Paley things he didn't want to hear. Well that means that the leader gets in a cocoon of unreality, and this is a great big enterprise, and boy, did he make some dumb decisions in the last 20 years.

And now the Persian messenger syndrome is alive and well.

I am hearing the drumbeat about Charlie Munger in every Farnam Street podcast – one after other, everyone interviewed in that podcast seems to be a Charlie Munger fan. I need to read up more about him – I did not realize someone like is partner of Warren Buffet. Everyone has heard of the Oracle of Omaha, but may not about Munger. Other repeated reference that cannot be avoided is the book “Influence” by Robert Cialdini which is in my list for long. But Munger cites the book as one that filled the holes in his understanding of human psychology and behavior. The book went up in my toread list. Both could add to my understanding of working with irrational people.

Back to Persian messenger and deaf leader. I think this could be one of the crippling problems of leadership and cause of the misery in the world caused by such leaders.

I met an Architect with Kerala’s public works department (PWD) today. He was talking about ministers and secretaries in government going through similar deaf ear problem. We were talking about the recent flood disaster, environmental protection and government’s understanding of the issues. He said some of these officials are quite intelligent, practical, disciplined leaders. But they surround themselves with technical advisors who are yes men and can’t take criticism or difficult messages which will further curtail people from speaking up. In meetings even if you bring up an opposing view in most diplomatic form, he will get kicked under the table by his seniors to shut up or the minister will explicitly cut off and ask someone else to comment. This behavior will reinforce itself and people will stop talking. It seems the minister took an year to understand the difference between role of architecture and structural engineering in PWD since he wasn’t ready to listen or learn.

Now with these kind of leaders and administration, how do we get lasting change for the better? With such leaders in our corporations and government, what hope do we have for a better world? It is said that the leaders of large organizations have psychopathic tendencies, empathy which allowed them to create successful networks and coalitions dies as they climb up the ladder and nature of their jobs (working insane hours, pushing people to deliver against impossible timelines, pressure to show results) necessitate them to be ruthless. How do we keep them in check – whether they are learning, someone is able to give them dose of reality and criticize and give them the bad news.

topics to read


These are some topics I need to read up and research further.

  • How to work with irrational people more effectively and get things done? What to use when logic fails? Sometimes we prepare perfectly logical arguments which we think should be understood and accepted by people and we will get the logical outcome, but it doesn’t happen that way. Egos, prejudices and biases creep in and it goes haywire. After one or two steps, logical outcomes may become impossible to achieve.
  • What makes some people more thoughtful, disciplined and achieve consistent outcomes? I see people with years of experience produce sloppy outcomes in some cases and execute some things well? What drives perfection? Is it possible to change?
  • What makes people lean to left or right of political spectrum? Is it nature or nurture? Is it their brains or upbringing?
  • What is the limit of nurture? Inherent talent and intelligence vs acquired expertise – is the gap insurmountable?
  • How to mentor introverts and extroverts differently? What are the limits of both and how / where to use their skills and nature most effectively? I started reading “Quiet” by Susan Cain, need to finish and find some answers to this.

beliefs


I read somewhere that believing in any ideology too deeply to the extent of being dogmatic about it is going to be a problem. Whether it is capitalism, socialism, religions, political parties, organizations etc. I guess we need to have clarity on our principles and values that are immutable – like honesty, integrity, equality, humility. We probably should not take a centrist view on everything just to be politically correct and taking apparent merits of both sides of every argument. We can lean to one side based on our values, but needs to keep the eyes and ears open to what the other side is saying.

I say all this due to the increasing political divide in my community. I see my childhood friends, people who I played , studied or worked with, moving to extreme opposite sides of the political spectrum. Every argument they make is tinged with their ideology which is obvious to a third party, but they will never agree that they are prejudiced in any way. Their arguments are reinforced within the echo chamber that they are in. They don’t follow, listen, read or watch anything with opposing arguments long enough.

I read Charlie Munger’s quote “I never allow myself to hold an opinion on anything that I don't know the other side's argument better than they do”. I would like to understand some of the arguments of opposite side deeper, why are they making that argument, what motivates them and why is it still wrong.

moments of a life


I attended a marriage ceremony today, a simple function that I enjoyed attending after a long time – usually our kind of marriages (in Kerala) are just show pieces that are meaningless (or today I made up some meaning from it). For example, I watched the groom take blessings from an elder in the family. His father had made it a point to break off the groom from the procession which was taking him to the mandap, take blessing from this person and proceed. I thought he genuinely touched the person’s feet, asked for blessings and received it. It was someone with a head full of clean white hair, who knew him probably as an just born infant to a man that is standing before him, entering a new life. For some reason, hairs on my arm stood up.

I was thinking if people realize that such moments, of taking or giving the blessings before you start a huge leap in your life, tying the knot, are once in a lifetime which makes it big moments. How do we get them imprinted in our memories – being fully present, realizing the “power of now”, mental images with the intensity of feelings that we felt at that time – than the still photos. I used to think about this when I say final farewell to friends who move away – often they don’t realize this may be the last time we see each other for years and when we see each other after those years, we may not be exactly be the same. So the last time we see each other with such a closeness that we mutually feel is now. From that point, the relationship fades into a maybe a nostalgic one which we both hope is the same as the one we really had at one time. Hence the final farewell is a significant moment for me, but I usually see both of us just saying we will keep in touch and walk away. Same is the case about moments with my daughter. I may never feel her innocence just the same, or her joy of simple things, or silly jokes, or non-sensical questions in the same way later. I hope to being more present in the moment, with full attention, enjoy and cherish such moments.

conversational dance, contd..


Someone asks a simple question. We think twice/thrice about the answer and give an answer that not just addresses the direct question, but also the implicit imagined questions and potential followup questions. I think it is in Gregory Bateson’s “Steps to an Ecology of Mind” that I read that someone’s seemingly harmless statement about something is evaluated by us what does that indicate for his relationship to me. Sometimes we answer with something that the other person will also know that it was an answer for some other question which was not explicitly asked, but we both don’t acknowledge that such a upspoken question was hanging in the air. 

I guess it happens even more in email/chat where we analyze the questions and responses more, than talking. I also think with total strangers such analysis doesn’t happen and also there is no need to do that with people that we love – in first case we don’t care enough and in last case we both have a firm understanding of the relationship already.

short links


Blind – an anonymous corporate social network. I think the biggest use of this will be to give true feedback to people. Such platforms have huge downside as well – but it is the kind of downside if we hear others thoughts without filters. I think most of the wastage in large corporates is due to people not being able to communicate their challenges freely with each other. Much effort and time goes in maneuvering such a tangle and get something done. There are people who will never ever know what is wrong with them because no one can tell them directly what is wrong with them. “Give a man a mask and he will tell you the truth”. It is true also that even when we know the truth about ourselves, we may rationalize and continue the same way. But still, by any chance, if people use such feedback to get better, it will be a huge improvement – individually and for corporations to get things done.

Why software development requires servant leaders – I was alone for lunch today and had couple of good articles to keep me company. I shared this with a few colleagues and later someone did a quiz which had a question on who is a servant leader – my version of deja vu. I have come to believe that this is the right way to lead. I also think such leaders may not climb the corporate ladder, data yet to prove me wrong.

Stop hiring for culture fit – I think it is time to redefine HR (in fact none of the divisions to should operate “typically”). HR function should be done by a business person and should rotate. Hiring is such a pivotal role in building a team and we don’t spend enough time learning how to correctly assess people in a short time. I think it will great to have clarity on the characteristics / qualities of people we want in a team.

nightmare


When exactly did it become so big? A disaster happening step by step, we are in the picture and being aware of it slowly. When we are in an accident, time is supposed to slow down and we see everything happening but go with it since nothing else can be done. Kerala is seeing the biggest natural disaster so far in my lifetime. I see it happening, but when did I feel the pinch? I still may not have felt its full impact. But I see the people whose loved ones are stuck somewhere in the unknown, trying desperately to reach them, their panic in not knowing where they are and how they are doing and helplessness in not being able to do anything. I heard people watched the disaster unfold in the TV one day and next day flood water is on their door step. It rises inch by inch.

Concern in people’s voices, their genuine effort, eagerness to help in anyway possible – all this restores the faith in humanity. Even while there are some who still find ways to further their agenda and mischief in middle of all this. Government is in control, every available resource is put into helping people, administrators and volunteers are working round the clock and good samaritans in social media are working to share information and coordinate rescue efforts.

I used to think about the rising feeling seeing the sky darken, air getting cooler and the silence before the rain starts – will the feeling change seeing the havoc it causes? With day after day of dark clouds, hearing the rain rushing outside the window increases the anxiety whether the misery in the state will get any worse than what it is today.

I hope we get out of this as stronger people.

pendulum


Take any topic that seems interesting, obsess about it, build up the maze in the mind and keep going through layers and layers inside. The simulation in the mind starts to deviate from reality, either to the excited level or to the depression state. Preset rules are broken by emotion and impulse. How will it be brought back to equilibrium? Rude shocks of reality can bring it back, but then it might have caused some damage. Well meaning warning by someone close can point out the aberration, unless offense is taken where there is none meant. Self talk can do the trick, but such a strong mind which keeps it in check might not have allowed it to deviate in the first place. Blessed are those who either don’t move too far off the normal state either because they don’t burden themselves with too much thinking or those who sees the world clearly and have made their peace with it in all aspects.

Amelia Boone - Farnam Street podcast


Long time back, one of my team mates would say as a reason of coming late most mornings that he couldn’t muster the energy in the morning, had to warm up and crank the engine. I had joked with him to drink less the previous night, as a solution, nothing else is needed to charge him up every morning. But today was one of those days for me. I don’t laze around in the morning, I get into the rhythm and go through the motions, so won’t be sloppy, but some days are like that. I searched around to see what I can read which will put me in the mood and give me a little push – of self reflection, new ideas and get the creative juices flowing a bit. Didn’t find much, gave up and started from home for office. I had seen a photo of Amelia Boone with her 70 year old dad liked by someone in my twitter feed and remembered that I had downloaded her interview in Farnam street podcast. I put that on and started driving to office. It totally lifted my spirits, I was stopping multiple times on my way to make notes and smiled at some points. It was such a treat. Her accent, passion/joy/smile/laugh in the voice, made it all the more enjoyable. Host, Shane, was clearly enjoying this conversation.

When I listen to such podcasts, I get some connected ideas – some to try in my work, some for personal improvement. Few notes from this podcast..

  • She talked about stopping an reflecting in the middle of a “death race”, on why is she doing this and about quitting. Just focus on the next step – one step at a time – is a good advice. Life lesson itself – focus on today and get through it.
  • Focus on the process, the effort and enjoy the journey. Mindset that results don’t matter.
  • Trust your process, don’t be forced to run someone else’s race – changing the pace in the initial part of the race to catchup with someone, while knowing that you usually close well and need to keep energy for that.
  • You don’t have a right to something, don’t be entitled. I feel people don’t have beginner mindsets these days, they approach new job or new assignments with a sense of entitlement. Just because of their years of experience and position, they should be at this level and assuming they know it all. It is such a blocker for some people who could have done great things to not even try something new or due to such entitled attitude others don’t feel like giving them that chance.
  • Don’t be too hard on myself, be kind with myself. Be gentle. Self talk.
  • Listening to same songs for 5 years, same song on repeat – song becomes background music to thinking. I used to study like this in college.
  • Kids doing chores from age 6, earning pocket money, working through high school and college. Sense of ownership. I think India and East not having such a culture is causing our kids to have a false sense of entitlement, not appreciate value of work and earning for oneself.
  • Wondered what would be my super productive hours in day
  • Her hack of putting an item in the TODO list that can be checked off is nice way to show progress to myself than staring at a full list

recent reads


Few recent reads:-

Real Word vs Book Knowledge: Morgan Housel is someone I started following recently. Listened to his interview in Farnam Street podcast as well. This article was very apt for a debate that I was having with a colleague. We started a library within our team. Few folks pooled in money and we bought around 25 books which are some of the best in the areas where we all should be picking up skills, that will be useful in our work. In that context, argument was about bookish knowledge vs someone surprising us with their practical wisdom. I have no doubt there will be people who haven’t read widely, but will have brilliant insights. But it cannot be a “Vs”, not a “either / or” qn. One without the other will be incomplete. Also people use the excuse that they have real world knowledge to justify why they don’t read. In general, I think reading is on a decline (atleast among my acquaintances) and it could be one of the reasons for the rising social ills.

What is Love? : I think this could be one of the best articles I have read about love, to the extent I searched who might have written this in the Book of Life (could be Alain de Botton). Our innermost thoughts cannot be expressed without significant editing. We cannot truly be ourselves without shocking others. It is only with the loved ones can we be free – our weirdness, weaknesses, vulnerabilities can be tolerated and we can be without pretenses.

Epitaph to a Dog by Byron: below lines is a good prelude to the next article. When we love, it is truly love or is it just lust? Are our friendships meaningful, do we care deep enough or is it to pass time and avoid being lonely? Are we speaking the truth all (or even most of) the time? Our capability to deceive ourselves and others in sophisticated ways, sometimes even without us realizing consciously, might be a skill the animals may not have acquired.

While man, vain insect! hopes to be forgiven,
And claims himself a sole exclusive heaven.
Oh man! thou feeble tenant of an hour,
Debas’d by slavery, or corrupt by power,
Who knows thee well, must quit thee with disgust,
Degraded mass of animated dust!
Thy love is lust, thy friendship all a cheat,
Thy tongue hypocrisy, thy heart deceit!
By nature vile, ennobled but by name,
Each kindred brute might bid thee blush for shame.

Is Your Emotional Intelligence Authentic or Self Serving? : this is something worth thinking about. Is my humility real? I pride myself in listening well, but do I change my mind based on what I hear? I think I can feel other’s pain, but then do I impose myself in trying to help? Do I want someone’s approval all the time to reassure myself?


നോൺ ഫിക്ഷൻ

"Chinua Achebe - Man of the People. ഫിക്ഷനോ നോൺ ഫിക്ഷനോ?" "ഫിക്ഷൻ" "നോൺ ഫിക്ഷൻ നിർത്തിയോ?" "ഇല്ല...