I will amuse you with a sob story..

When my friend** James Altucher writes an article, the emotional connection to the audience (or anchor as he puts it) tends to mention about how he was a failure, and how he put those days behind him.

courtesy: https://twitter.com/jaltucher

I know he has much more valuable that he has to say, and he does indeed. But I get fixated by the background story. As I read his inspirations, fears, joyous moments and advise, I have the anchor in mind. And, in my heart.

So will you.

I don’t read Altucher’s books and blog for his wonderful command over language, his success stories, and his advice. I am sure I could have led a more happy, prosperous and enjoyable (if that is possible!) life if I did listen, but it just wasn’t to be.

I read Altucher because I find myself in him. I also find myself in the people around him – the ones he loves, hates and ignores.

So, will you.

Altucher paints gory details of his failures. I often found myself pinching myself to ensure that I am not in financial distress, caught myself guffawing on his escapades, biting my nails over what looked like embarrassments, and said to myself at least a thousand times that “I would never do that if I was there”.

And again, so will you.

It is not only the sob story that sells. But, it is the honesty, the courage to put it out for the audience, and then comes the cake, ice-cream.

You went in for a casual lunch, but the damn thing proved to be cocaine-ridden shit. The whole package is so enticing that you can’t stop it once you experience it. You just swim gladly within the grief and happiness.

It is only human.

It so happens that I want to establish the same connection with my audience. But, I am held back by my happiness and contented life.

“Boo”, you say. And, you are right.

I have wonderful family and friends, quite strong relationships, not bad with my health, have “somewhat ok” finances, and am generally happy. So, how the heck am I to interest anyone, let alone inspire them. If I don’t have a sad story, I can’t quite write about how I came out of it donning a cape.

I can’t be your hero.

So, for my own benefit here are the things that I should indeed be doing to take you on the roller-coaster ride :

I should speak more about how risk-averse I am.
I favour stability at each stage. Got good marks in high school? – choose an engineering degree. Got good in programming? – hop on to the nearest IT service provider who is equally clueless as you.

Celebrate my fears with whoever is willing to listen.
Be scared of the impending civilization fallout from automation / AI/robots, nuclear war, or the zombie apocalypse. Scare the heck out of people with the stories, hard-to-contradict facts (choose your audience right, I always say), and connect with people on the countdown to doomsday.
Just read today’s news if you run out of ideas.

Talk about how hard it is to put my lazy ass to work.
I try almost every productivity trick known to man, and our nearest neighbour – the chimp (or some may say pigs). I cannot find myself running at peak productivity – ever. I have managed to stay away from my core love of programming for months, did not blog for years, and found joy in skimming in calm waters.

Think about how much I have missed all the good parts in life already.
Build complex what-if scenarios that could have made my life much better.

Share stuff on missed opportunities since I could not hold on to the right mindset for long.
I can’t eat right for 5 days straight. I cannot stay away from Steam for 15 days straight. I have tried all, and have been conquered by all.

 

While I get the sob part of the story right, there is a big problem. I am yet to successfully navigate my way through those problems. I often wonder the point in such an adventure.

Instead, could I interest you in just some boring details of how I travel 45 km / 2.5 hours a day every day for the past 5 years in God-forsaken traffic? That should qualify as good a sob-story as any.

I have exhausted the post, and my audience at this point — so there is no point in writing any further. The actual story has to wait for another day.

 

** a secret kept from Mr Altucher himself. It is a largely unidirectional friendship.

Do this One Task to Get Stuff Done Now

All my life I have waited for the next day to become get things done and to be more productive.

  • I will avoid browsing YouTube from tomorrow
  • I am not going to play games from next weekend (this I actually implemented, yay!)
  • I will save time by learning typing from tomorrow
  • and, so on..

The problem, as you may have guessed it, was the “tomorrow” never came.

We have a saying in Hindi that roughly translates to –

Do tomorrow’s work today. Do today’s work now.

This sounds so easy and obvious, but isn’t. I successfully managed to push things to the morrow that never existed.

The underlying problem is the human mind.

The mind is interested in what is being experienced **now ** more than what comes later. It doesn’t care about the future, not the next moment, and not the catastrophe you will unleash by watching the Wonder Woman make overshadow both Batman and Superman in one go.

So, this one day I applied the many ideas that brilliant people before me have kindly provided. I stopped waiting for the next day. I simply started doing stuff in the **now** (yes, the ‘now’ has really beautiful stars adjacent to it).

Take this blog for example. I could bury my head all day into productivity, technology and related topics, but not write a word about it. I did this over weeks and always woke up feeling lousy the subsequent day because of the wasted opportunities.

There are also a few “smaller” things that you continue to do but are dangerous in the larger realm of things. These things have the ability to give you the sense of satisfaction for accomplishing nothing – checking Facebook updates, double checking that you have read all latest blog posts in your feedly list, and act of making sure your Inbox is clean every five minutes.

I am not saying all things you do (especially the part where you eat food and play games) are not important.

game and eat.gif

You have to just prioritize the tasks on the table and refocus.

When I decided to change, I started pounding down my thoughts without a care for the world. I just open the editor and started writing now. (so, good luck reading this post)

The act of “doing things now” is not alien, but there is a part of you that is always persuaded to do the task later. This guy wants you to while away time now – eat fried foods, binge watch your favourite shows on NetFlix, play a game for 12 hours straight, and other such glorious things.

What you do to trigger the “love for the productive now” is pretty simple – you pick up the minute of the minutest stuff that needs to get done.

This may refer to –

  • read the first paragraph of the book that you always wanted to read to get to your next million
  • write the first paragraph of your next blog post
  • commit the first few lines of your latest program

Once you are through the first step, magic takes over.

You will just not stop at the first paragraph or the first few lines. You know in your veins that what you are doing is what you enjoy now, today and later in your life. All you have to do is continue translating that thought into action.

What do you think? Will starting with the minute tasks work to get on the plane of productivity nirvana?

 

Will you wait to become commoditized or automated?

The whole physical realm of humanity goes through iterative cycles. We improve, we make mistakes, we learn and we go forward.

The improvement is proven and makes absolute sense when viewing our limited existence as a collective whole. I have not gone back to hunting gathering days, and neither have my close friends and family. I do not have physical existential challenges (danger from nature, life threatnening diseases) as my ancestors.

We’ve improved by leaps and bounds in the past 5000 years of recorded history.

However, none of us like change when it knocks on our doors. We love to view the change happening to “inefficient others” –

  • Cheaper clothes
  • Faster, better, good looking cars
  • Online utility bills
  • Customer self service through intelligent, automated systems

But, seldom associate that to –

  • Faster machines replacing humans
  • Faster design process using efficient software, higher automation
  • Replacement of the poor sod at the cash counter
  • Replacement of the poor sod at the call center and “customer service” counters

In each of the above cases, the hapless humans may be you or me. There are hundreds and thousands of ways to interpret what is happening around us, but there is a common underlying theme.

The work is being commoditized or being automated.

Commoditized and automated are two different things, but the underlying theme basically is the same – there are cheaper or efficient (if not both) ways of getting things done. They are to be taken as a sign of changing times, which by no way should be considered evil.

(Or, I may have lied – it may be a bit evil. Don’t you watch the movies?)

evil automation robot.png

 

Anywho, we will consider repurcussions of the bad AI later. To continue the train of thought that I had earlier – ws we move towards smarter machines, more novel ideas will present themselves for automation/commoditization.

So, what should the hitherto mentioned “poor sods” do? Should we be afraid of the future?Is humanity doomed in the all enlightened Watsons, Deep Minds and probably the Cortanas and Siris?

If you said “never”, and you should say “never” you dumb fellow, then congratulations – you represent all things human. The jobs created in the last hundred years, or the cubicles created in the last twenty years do not represent you and I.

The human spirit is being curious, finding the answer to the next big question and finding peace in the current moment. The world is a dizzyingly exciting puzzle of the physical, meta physical, philosophical, and everything in between.

What every human being has to do now is to just stop being afraid.

No matter what happens in the next two decades, and unless our worst dystopian nightmares come to life – we still do not go back to our hunter /gatherer days. Neither we need to start preparing our children to hunt deer, prepare for the next plague, or learn how to wield a knife properly (again, referring to the typical urban guys).

The need of the hour is to open the door to the change, give change an embarassing hand-shake and start dancing with it.

All you and I need to find is the small idea that can help us, and help others. And of course, it helps to follow that idea in action, continuously experiment through failures and successes, and persevere through all that.

Life is quite easy, boys and girls – go get that thing where you can create value yourself. The question that has to haunt you every moment of every day – “what did I do today that can help me in that pursuit”. Not each of those moments will be happy, I am sure, but all of them are well worth it.

It should never be a question of drifting to the next rotting branch, but to build a damn boat of all those branches and taking everyone and their dog for a ride (with all good intentions of course).

boat ride.jpg

Stop thinking about money by reading this book

My ‘Kindle Unlimited‘ subscription gives me access to some really good books, and then some excellent books. Since I don’t really have to pay money for the individual books, I get an opportunity to cause indigestion by selecting too many books to read and attempting to understand the world better.

It was with this sincerity I approached the book ‘I love money‘.

Although most of the mortals want a good love affair with money, I go into these glorious day-dreaming sessions of achieving beyond mere mortals by not having the need to think about money on a regular basis. I hope at least some of my reading will assist me in this pursuit – it has been a mixed bag so far.

i love money

‘I love money’ has noble ideas. In there, money is the good guy.

Money wants to be your friend if it isn’t not already. It has also gone ahead and written the foreword – what more would you expect?

The book announces to the whole world that you need to love money and make no bones about it.

Sadly, the entertainment value stops there.

‘I love money’ takes itself too seriously. It goes about creating a PhD-like course about how money is important, what it can do for you, how you should be doing stuff, and so on and so forth. A PhD course with some badly written content.

In this whole journey, you get many a cliche applied in today’s India (or let’s say your parent’s India if you are less than 30 years old).

Teach your children the value of Money (yes, with a capital ‘M’) and the virtues of saving, healthy habits, and other traits.

In the game of Money and Life, every opportunity matters.

Procrastination is a thief of both money and time.

Don’t jump to conclusions, or conclusions may jump back at you.

And things that a religious elder might not approve, but secretly admire anyway.

Start caring for money, treat it with lot of love and respect.

Sow the seeds of money consciousness deep in your heart.

Being playful with money is when you can see money and enjoy its natural beauty.

Pick up a currency and kiss it thereby expressing your love for money.

Well after reading 50% of this, I seriously started becoming uncomfortable. And, this had nothing to do with the nature of love expressed in the last sentence provided above.

The book simply calls upon you to respect/love money and has advice to treat money seriously – which includes gems like ‘note down who borrowed money from you’.

The book may be good advice and prep for the author’s workshop attendees. The book professes author’s love for money, and I have nothing against love of any kind (let’s not get wild here – afterall this is a G website). But, it fails miserably as a book.

There was no need to get so emotional about the message and create a melodrama about the ‘process of doing it’, ‘around doing it’, ‘about doing it’ and ‘how glorious you will be after doing it’. All the author needed to rather say was to ‘do the sh*t’ and ‘this is how it is done, baby’.

Look elsewhere if you want to read about money advice or how to get along with money.

 

I Love Money by  Suresh Padmanabhan.

Being a freak can be a good thing

Who knew that ‘freak’ – a common term with negative connotations, can turn out to be more than what it seems on face value.

At least that’s what the authors of Freakonomics and Super-freakonomics will have you believe. What else would you expect from them when ‘brand freak’ is at stake here.

Or, could it be really true? Is being a freak really a good thing to happen? Should you retrain yourself to be one?

The answers are nicely explained in an entertaining package that can provide enough material for your discussions at a party, water cooler, an intelligentsia get-together, or a big audience that is polite enough to not throw tomatoes when you are trying to fill-in the blanks between acts.

Seriously, it is excellent.

If you have not read freakonomics or its twin, you should be ashamed. You should close the browser, buy the book at your nearest book store, read it and return to this page. Or better yet, head over to Amazon and buy it on Kindle if you are indeed a freak.

‘Think like a freak’ did not have the same shocking factor as the first book.

think like a freak book

By this time, you would know the line of thought, how the facts are presented in the form of stories, and you are expecting some unbelievable things to be thrown at you in the commonest of scenarios.

All that excitement is very much part of the book.

The book answers some typical problems that would have nagged you when you are trying to think ‘intellectually’. Can’t remember when that was? Well, get in the line – you are in a well-populated place.

Without giving away spoilers, here are the three gems that influenced my thoughts.

Why do people predict things even if they don’t know?

The book convincingly explains how incentives have a role in making people predict things. If you are a economist, you will get a lot of fame and fortune by predicting doom at the end of century.

What happens if that doom never happens – well, no one really cares in the few weeks or months after your prediction. It it doesn’t happen, people will discuss some more and move on to the next big thing.

No one has a strong incentive to track everyone else’s bad predictions. There is also no strong incentive to say “I don’t know”. That would mean you are a person with no knowledge, and have nothing interesting to say.

So, people predict even when it is statistically proven that the future predictions seldom work in the context of the present.

Don’t be contained by your biases

There is always an interesting angle to look at the problem and solve it. But, we always gravitate towards the most biased.

People may take the road less travelled and have a better opportunity to succeed, but they seldom do that. The reason if you look back is quite evident – if you took a ’empirically accepted path’ and fail, you have tried hard enough. But the society will not be so kind if you fail doing something ‘stupid’. No one wants to be that guy even if dumb stats say on the contrary.

Freaks don’t need to be controlled by these biases, giving them more chances of success.

An example – the ‘hot dog eating contest’. Takeru Kobayashi, a new comer from Japan, did not think the 28.5 hot dogs was the upper limit. He ended up eating 50 hot dogs and set a new record that would not be beaten for the next couple of years.

Raw talent is over-rated.

Practice and you will achieve the most ambitious of the tasks that you wanted to master. Corelate and solve problems rather than thinking about how monstrous the problem appears and how many people who are supposedly smarter have not found their way out of its charms.

In Summary

Although the book is a quick read – it is well worth the 3-4 hours that you will spend on it. ‘Think like a freak’ may not revolutionize your thinking and lead you towards freakdom, but it sure initiate you to the process.

 

Think Like a Freak by Steven D. Evitt and Stephen J. Dubner.