Clay Horse

Life

clayhorse (from wikihow)

During one of my recent TED video browsings, I came across a reassuring talk by David Kelley of IDEO on “Building Creative Confidence“. Below is a transcript of the first minute:

“I wanted to talk to you today about creative confidence. I’m going to start way back in the third grade at Oakdale School in Barberton, Ohio.

I remember one day my best friend Brian was working on a project. He was making a horse out of the clay that our teacher kept under the sink. And at one point, one of the girls who was sitting at his table, seeing what he was doing, leaned over and said to him, ‘That’s terrible. That doesn’t look anything like a horse.’ And Brian’s shoulders sank. And he wadded up the clay horse and he threw it back in the bin. I never saw Brian do a project like that ever again.”

We have all been Brian at some point haven’t we?

My heart went out to Brian and I thought about the millions of masterpieces around the world that are never to be, because so many other Brians did not put their masterpieces back on the workbench and persist.

Baggage

Things that encumber one’s freedom, progress, development, or adaptability

I don’t think the Brian experience is limited to particular age demographics. We all become Brians and we all create Brians when we choose to accept, carry, or pass on the baggage of dogma without question.

How often do we hear this in everyday life?

At school: “Oh you are an arts major, you cannot take the quantitative analytics course.”

At work: “You seem to have a background in pharmaceuticals. Can’t see you solving our problems in advertising…you belong to the pharmaceuticals industry.”

At home: “I know you love history, but no one made a decent living off history, you should study medicine and become a doctor.”

Today more than ever, we have the opportunity to question dogma and the wherewithal to get past it. As education solves it’s distribution problem with e-learning, that Stanford machine learning course you wanted is just a click away. With technology and e-commerce, that portable potter’s wheel to let you dabble in clay is now within reach. Your unique interest probably has a meetup in your city so you are not alone. If you love programming and creative writing both, there probably are eLance gigs that will offer you the freedom to do what you love and make a living. Just shed the baggage. As someone who lives on the edge of tech, I have never been more optimistic about our evolution where passion, economics, and striving for excellence can all align no matter what it is that fires you up.

The next time you decide to throw away your clay horse because someone said it didn’t look like one, pause, put it back on your workbench, and keep working. You know, it might just be a unicorn.

Bangalore Jam

India Afresh, Life in Tech, Tech in Life
It is 7:30 AM and I am all set for an early start to my Bangalore workday. Based on vehement recommendations from my friends who have lived here longer than I have, I have subscribed to a cab service. My driver arrives on time and I get into the car. An arctic blast of imitation Jasmine fragrance knocks me into my seat. Since I paid for the AC car service, the driver has dutifully rolled up all the windows and is running the car’s AC at a freezing 21 degrees with a freshly opened Jasmine deodoriser to give me my money’s worth. I am quick to have him turn off the AC and roll down the windows to welcome some balmy Bangalore air.

We roll out of my residential complex and I sense we are out on to the Bangalore streets as the hint of Frangipani flowers in the air has been replaced by a mix of exhaust and spice. Almost at once we come to a grinding halt, my laptop which I have foolishly begun to work on, lurches forward as we encounter a big yellow school bus making a seemingly impossible U turn in front of us. Two-wheelers buzz around it, like flies around a wounded mammoth, making it harder. My window still rolled down, I notice the decibel levels of automobile horns rising with the urgency of those waiting for this school bus to pass.  My driver uses the down time to tell me how the road is going to be widened and there will soon be a flyover to ease things. I think I have heard that a few years ago when I was visiting. Maybe it’s deja vu. The bus finally bellows and grinds forward in the direction it wanted to.

The car is moving again at the normal Bangalore driving limit of 10 mph. After the first lurch I have given up on my laptop and I now give up on reading email on my phone, or doing pretty much anything that requires my neck to fixate on a screen as we drive over a dot matrix of potholes. I wonder what message they were conveying.  Neck straight, looking out of my window I focus on the still fresh morning scenery punctuated by real-estate billboards, enticing me with visions of California, Italy, and Spain. Residences with exotic names like Palo Alto Estates, Walnut Creek, and Tuscany, with pictures of azure waterbodies and sumptuous villas are in sharp contrast to what I am experiencing at the moment.  Between those billboards I see glimpses of the real Bangalore waking up. Lazy coconut palms and banana plantations, steamy Darshinis (breakfast spots) serving hot Idlis, spicy sambar, and strong filter coffee to hungry standees; mini temples of variegated gods and goddesses, their bells chiming in with the sound of growing traffic; fragrant flower baskets and loads of coconuts urging passers by to indulge in an express blessing; and freshly bathed school children in uniform, all vie for attention. Life goes on. No, it thrives, much faster than the traffic I am in.

A red public transport bus obstructs my view momentarily. It is loaded twice over capacity with bleary eyed passengers floating through their commute with the life rafts that are their smart phones and headsets. The bus passes and I am greeted by a mother – helmet on and a flowing orange gajra fluttering in the breeze – ferrying 3 uniformed children to school on her two wheeler. One child is squeezed between her handle and front seat. The two others cling for dear life on the back seat with arms stretched in a human chain anchored by her girth. They peer into my car with just one passenger and I look away guiltily, right into the eyes of a little girl no more than 6, in a crisp white school uniform, pigtails tied with the brightest red ribbons her mother could find, a heavy school bag, walking alone, no footwear. Older college-goers in trendy clothes flit and dodge around my car, fixated on their smartphones, probably playing a virtual game and the real-life traffic dodging game at once. A little further, a concerned driver citizen has disembarked from his car in mid-traffic to help an old couple navigate the jammed road.

We inch towards my destination, which I was told about 30 minutes ago, was just 5 more minutes away. Newton and Einstein are both turning in their resting place somewhere. I stay blissfully immersed in my experience as Bangalore limps by. Sacred Ganesha statues for sale next to a slaughterhouse; a Pizza hut and KFC next to a biryani joint; a locksmith next to a Nike Factory store; a glossy Intel building next to a single fruit seller selling only pomegranates; and a pungent sewer by a brand new hospital pass by in the backdrop of what was once old Bangalore – rows of vibrant Gulmohars, imposing Acacias, cheery Frangipanis and retired seniors on long morning walks outside rows of peaceful, low rise, shaded, private residences. My reverie is interrupted by the thick of traffic. I roll up my windows, preferring the synthesised Jasmine to a diesel exhaust draining into my face. I cut out the city noise some more by putting on my headsets. Bob Dylan reminds me that the times they are a changing.

Finally, ten miles and 45 minutes later, I am told I am at my destination. I enter my office which is no different and probably better than some I have occupied in the Bay Area. It welcomes me with the blip and growl of a power outage and diesel generators coming on simultaneously. All is well, I think, as I fire up my laptop again and begin my day.  News of a $1B investment in Bangalore based Flipkart greets me, followed by Amazon’s counter attack of committing to $2B in the Indian market, along with a clip about Uber creating a presence in India to disrupt the conveyance market.

Dichotomy is the word I think I should use, but it falls so short of what I experienced in just this one hour. Is there a single word conveying an emotion of contrast, exhilaration, calm, chaos, anticipation, disparity, frustration, and optimism happening all at once? Maybe the word I am looking for is “Bangalore”.

The Founder Bit

Business, Entrepreneurship, Geek, Life in Tech, Tech, Tech in Life

The founder bit is the highest order bit in the array of capabilities you can turn on no matter where you work. This bit when turned on, has an order of magnitude more impact on you and your organisation compared to any other attitude or capability.

Flipping on the founder bit lets you take ownership, accountability, and responsibility. It demolishes the comforting facade of being “employed by someone” and forces you to see your organisation stripped down to it’s bare and real potential. It is the red pill that forces you to wake up to the sometimes painful truths about the performance of your organisation, your team, and yourself, and start asking the right questions.

The founder bit is an attitude. You don’t need to be a founder to turn up your founder bit. Indeed there can be actual founders who never really turn it on and are just playing the game of company.

The Fight

Business, Life in Tech, Tech in Life

He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot, will be victorious.  — Sun Tzu

Management quotes are rife with the metaphor of the “fight”.

– Fight for a raise from your supervisor

– Fight against a competitor for a deal with a customer

– Fight for acceptance from the community you do business in

The fight metaphor pits you against the party who has the resources which must be extracted by force.

Next time you get into this arena, how about fighting for trust?

– Fight for your supervisor’s trust…not their budget

– Fight for your customer’s belief…that you will not let them down

– Fight for a community’s confidence…that you care about their interests

Trust not only changes the battlefield, it eliminates the battle.

Now the fight is with yourself – building capability, consistency, and competence so you are willingly given what you are looking for.

The Human Filter

Entrepreneurship, Geek, Life in Tech, LikeStream

Painting

It’s not information overload, it’s filter failure.

– Clay Shirky

My father is an artist, art historian, and conservator of painting. One of his roles when I was growing up in the 80s, was Curator of Painting at the Prince of Wales Museum in Mumbai. I had the unique privilege of being exposed to a range of art as a result. Art from the great Indian contemporary painters like M.F. Hussain and Sabavala, to the European greats like Rubens, to painted, sculpted, and gilded masterpieces from ancient India.

I realized back then, that this was an unbounded and fascinating world filled with millions of creations. It took a bit longer to realize that I had by my side, one of the best “filters” for helping me discern the attributes of great art: my father and his band of fellow scholars. When they pointed to a piece of art and agreed (or disagreed) that it was great (or not), it came from years of training, observation, and research, culminating in what we might call discerning taste. If they had an algorithm to identify art they liked, it was only in their sub-conscious, intuitive, matured over time and complex like a fine wine. Equally interesting were their stories associated with the art and artists; bringing them to life, adding a whole other dimension to the decision. Suddenly, a somewhat imperfect piece of art became worthy of restoration or acquisition with the backdrop of story and history.

Somewhere along the way we lost this expert human filter to the online world and need to bring it back.