The poor, poor donkeys of Santorini

Donkeys of Fira
Is that the happy donkey?

One of the things that Santorini is known for, is, donkeys. You cannot really miss them on t-shirts, refrigerator magnets and stuffed toys that show these cute loveable creatures smiling away and living the island life.

A thing to do in Fira is to take a donkey to climb up the 588 steps to the old ferry port.

I was somewhat unhappy to see activity because I support a donkey charity (yes that’s a thing and read the inspiring story of Jean and Bob behind this charity) and find the act of putting a human on a donkeys back inhumane.

I have learnt while supporting Asswin that the general perception that donkeys can really take any absurd amount of weight is wrong and most donkeys end up suffering a broken back. Once an animal has a broken back, they are discarded to die. Note: this is the truth in India and I have no data to say that this happens in Santorini and to an untrained eye(read mine), the donkeys indeed looked healthy.

The second issue is that donkeys aren’t sexy enough or worse yet, they are the butt of jokes which means that there is no charity (except Jean & Bob) who even try to do the work of rescuing and rehabilitating these creatures. This work is really done to help who aren’t helped by anyone else.

But back to the story.

I was out and about for my morning Santorini pictures and I saw a man tying garbage bags in front of the restaurant I had been to previous night. This is where I began to think about garbage disposal in Santorini. The steps are steep, way too steep for humans to pick it up and garbage trucks might not make it to all places. So how do they do it?

Coming from Silicon Valley, I was trying to figure the technological solution to the problem.

 

Donkeys of Fira
Couple of bags – thats a good enough load

Whilst I was trying to figure the puzzle out — I saw a couple of guys bringing their donkeys along. This was 5:30 am in the morning and there was no one on the roads except for me and a few stragglers heading back to their rooms after a night out.

 

The donkey handler stop in front of the restaurant I was in and start loading the donkey. 1 bag… 2 bags…3 bags — he kept going on and on.

 

 

 

 

 

I didn’t keep a count because I was busy watching the face of the donkey.

Donkeys of Fira
maybe a few more

 

This donkey was about 2 feet away from me and the face was one of utter hopelessness. The face became further grim with every additional bag that landed on its back and somewhere along a tear streamed down its eye :-(.

Donkeys of Fira
Perhaps we will stop now?
Donkeys of Fira
Just look at the insane load on its back!

 

Once fully loaded, it had some difficulty finding its footing on the steep steps and along it went on the steps of Fira.

Donkeys of Fira
wobbly footing – this is too hard!

Quietly, uncomplainingly, having done the job of keep the town clean for tourists like me to come in and click pictures.

Donkeys of Fira
off he goes with the insane load

I don’t quite fault the handlers who are busy earning their livelihood — this is so much better than the horses of Iceland where they end up on the dinner table.

But the question is…

At what point will humanity evolve where animal rights equal to human rights. At what point will humanity evolve such that animals aren’t seen as a commodity to be cut, sliced, diced and milked.

What needs to happen to get us to a point where we are even ready to have a conversation that animals need to be treated humanely and I mean treated and not killed humanely.

Seeing the donkeys in Santorini was heart breaking but what made the heart break brutal was to realise that all I could do is write a blog about this fully well knowning that not a whole lot of people will even bother reading it.


(originally published on blueorangeart.com)

Day 1 in Santorini – Charming Fira

This blog is part of series of 8 days in Greece specifically Cyclades islands of Santorini and Mykonos.

Fira
Fira, Santorini

 

Fira
Santorini sunset from the air

 

 

Fira in Santorini is the “it” town and this is where the tourists head to. Our driver dropped us off near the main square after picking us up at the airport and I was taken aback to see the number of tourists in the main square.

It seemed like Goa!

We dropped our luggage in the hotel which was a minute away, got some dinner and walked around the Fira streets which are charming.

What to expect in Fira

 

Fira
On the donkey walk

Expect beautiful charming streets, full of tourists and shops. Lots and lots of restaurants, bars and clubs. Clubs are not my scene so I will skip commenting except to say that I saw tourists girls walking on the street at 5:30 am in the morning after a night of partying. Oh yes another one — the first night here, we could hear the bass from the club next doors upto 3 am!

Fira
The best place to take a picture. Rastoni restaurant

 

 

That aside, the town is charming — to say the least.

Day 1 in Fira – Things to do

Old Ferry Port

Total time – 3 hours
Fira We walked up west to go down to the old ferry port and we were completely blown away by the sight of the caldera – I don’t think pictures do justice to this view.

Fira
Caldera

 

 

Fira
View from the donkey walk

 

Fira
588 steps – strenous!

 

 

Anyways, the walk to the old ferry port is called the 588 steps to the port. It is quite a steep walk down with plenty of opportunities to click pictures of the caldera.

Turns out that donkeys are quite the thing in Santorini and this path had tourists coming up on these donkeys. I support a donkey charity in India and had an unhappy look watching the donkeys lugging humans up the stairs.

The walk down is strenuous and the end reward was a beer. Well not quite – I ordered an Ouzo (dry anise flavoured aperitif) thinking it was a beer and was pleasantly surprised.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fira
The island life

 

We hung around for an hour. Clicked pictures and took the cable car up where we spent more time clicking pictures. Fira

 

Fira Fira

Fira Fira

Fira

Kamari Beach

Fira

Total time – 4 hours

Fira

 

We rented a car and headed down to Kamari beach. Alex (our car rental guy) told us that don’t trust Google and just follow the directions on the road. It was surprising to see how much we have come to depend on Google maps that it was difficult to adjust to signs on the road. That said, it wasn’t too difficult finding our way to Kamari beach — after all it was less than 5 miles away :-). The walk around Kamari definitely reminded me of Goa. Tourist lined shops and restaurants right next to the beach.

The beach doesn’t have sand but black rounded rocks.

Lots of tourists sunbathing around here.
Fira

 

FiraWe grabbed lunch at an eatery and spent time feeding some lovely cats. My wife is afraid of cats and on this trip she has started becoming friends with some. We then drove back to Fira.

 

Pampering ourselves in Fira
Fira

We walked around stores and my wife decided to get her hair done at Stellas while I decided to get a fish manicure. If you haven’t done it before I recommend it.

It’s mind-bending to see that rather than you eating a fish, the fish eats you :-).

 

Evening sunset and dinner in Fira

As the evening wore on, we headed back up the steps and to watch the views of the Caldera. It was a foggy evening and we didn’t quite have the sunset but the view itself was worth it.

We ended up going to a restaurant called Rastoni which has fantastic views, restaurant staff and food. I loved them! While writing this blog, I found out that they are really highly reviewed.

Fira

My personal highlight in Fira

WhileFira waiting for the sunset, I happen to meet this gentlemen who clearly was 80+ and selling post cards to make a living :-(. He could barely walk and I saw him make his way towards me but I wasn’t quite sure if he was going for the view or coming in for me. After taking about 3 minutes to cover a 10 feet distance, he uttered the word “postcard” and I bought one.

I saw him sit down tired with evidently more work to do for the evening. We approached him and asked if we could buy his entire post card collection which was less than 20Euros and he was elated. He was so happy to do a picture with me.

Fira It’s heartbreaking to see that he has to hustle so late in life — life’s not fair. At the same time, I noticed how incredibly blessed and happy I felt to just bring a smile on his face. Note to self – need to do more to help old people and animals!

Airport to Hotel

We got our hotel to arrange for a pickup from the airport. The charge was 25 EU for 2 person. This was a mini-bus with other passengers along and the ride to Fira was about 25 minutes. The driver insisted on taking payment after dropping us which is not what the hotel had told us. The Hotel person (Elaine) was surprised himself and was going to check back.

Accommodation and Car Rental in Fira

We are staying at the Hotel Tataki (booked from booking.com). The hotel staff specifically Elaine (from Albania) has been really good. This is as central in Fira as you can get – the Caldera is about 2 minutes walk up, the cable car is about 5-7 minutes away, the main square is 2 minutes walk down. Fira
You step out from the hotel and you are in the middle of a bustling tourist street.

Fira
Loved it!

They helped us organise car rental with …. (to be updated). Alex who rented the car out was absolutely delightful to deal with. He sat us down, oriented us to Santorini, things to drive around and see. The car itself – a hatchback was $47 Euro/day with complete insurance coverage.

I would highly recommend both the hotel and the car rental company.


(originally posted on blueorangeart.com)

The Turkish Bath – Istanbul Hamam Experience

Hamam-foyer-2
Foyer Area, Cemberlitas Hamami

One of the questions that a traveller has to inevitably make in Istanbul is whether a traveller should do the Turkish Bath/Hamam experience.

The answer is a definite yes.

Types of Hamam

You have a choice between many types of Hamams — traditional (Cemberlitas Hamami), traditional-converted-to-ultra-modern-spas(Aya Sofia Hamami) or the ones connected to your hotel (Pierre Loti Hamami). Most require an upfront reservation so please do check their website before going in. Spend some time researching each on TripAdvisor but then just do it. We were originally planning to head to Cemberlitas and then read unflattering reviews on Tripadvisor and decided to walk to Aya Sofia and were turned away because of no reservation. Frustrating, primarily because the Ayasofia website was down the 4 days we were in there. This was a blessing in disguise because Cemberlitas entertains walkins, is cheaper and had more services and we loved the Cemberlitas experience! My recommendation would be to choose a traditional Hamam experience because they do transport you into a bygone era. Cemberlitas for example, was setup in 1524. You cannot help but think of all the people who have been through the Hamam over the ages. Hamam-foyer Men and women go separate. There are some Hamamis (Cagalogou) that has different timings for men and women. Most others had two different baths for men and women. Cemberlitas for one had two different baths.

The Hamam Experience

I chose the Traditional experience with an Indian head massage at Cemberlitas. The Indian head massage is only offered at Cemberlitas. They gave me two plastic tokens to carry into the Hamam. I walked into the Hamam, I was handed a towel (called Pestamal) and I changed into the towel and walked into the Hamam. I also handed a scrubber – more later. I then, passed through a entrance room which had a few basins of water and was led into the actual hamam room. The room itself must be about 3000 square feet and I think octagonal. There were basins at about every 5 feet along the edge of the room. The focal point of the room and experience is a huge marble platform in the center where other men were lying down. I was asked to lie down and sweat it out and sweat out I did. Ten minutes into the sweating process, Hakim, my hamami guy (someone in his late 50’s) came in and started scrubbing me with my scrubber. Man – this gentlemen scrubbed me down good. He then pulled out a small copper basin which had foam soap in it and scrubbed me with the soap. He then repeatedly walked over to the basins on the edge, pick a big bowl of water from the basin and poured it over me. I love warm water and this felt good. He then walked me out to the smaller entrance room and sat me down and washed my head really good. We walked back into the main hamam where he washed me again. We then walked out where he handed me to the massage guy. So Hakim made sure that I knew his number tag for a tip later on. My wife’s experience was a bit sweeter where her attendant sang a Turkish song to her while she went through the experience.

Recommendation: Traditional or Self Service?

The self-service option was high on my list. I suppose it is for people like me who are uncomfortable with other folks touching me — let alone giving me a bath. That though is not the authentic experience. I would highly recommend choosing a traditional massage over a self service experience.

The Indian Head Massage

The Indian head massage that I envisioned was a gentle experience but this experience was rigorous. The masseur found a couple of trouble spots on shoulder and neck and went at them to the point that I screamed a few times and tried to stop or take a pause. Taking a pause was not on my masseurs agenda and I was pushed down and he went after those points with gusto. Thirty minutes later, I was a new man with my neck, face, ears and shoulders massaged to happiness. My wife’s experience differed here where she was given a full body massage.

Post Hamam Experience

Hamam-Sherbet
Ottomon Sherbet

After, the head massage, I was pointed to cold showers where I took one and then walked into the Hamam to relax. I must’ve spent about 15-20 minutes relaxing here. I walked out and someone wrapped me in a towel and checked into my changing room. I walked out handed tips to the two gentlemen (about 20 TL each) and sat down in the beautiful foyer area to wait on my wife. I had a nice cool Ottomon Sherbet here and I must say that really put a small bow on the experience itself.

About Cemberlitas

Hamam-entrance
The Hamam Entrance

The Hamam itself was extremely clean and I would call it functional. It wasn’t fancy as compared to pictures of some other Hamams. I saw  locals in here and not tourists (scared away because of trip advisor?) in my short time here.

Hakim and the masseur spoke very little english and that made the experience authentic for me.

Recommendation

The Hamam experience stood out to me as one of the top experiences in Istanbul. My tiredness of walking up and down the streets dissolved away at the end of the experience.

I would highly recommend doing it. As for me, if I make it to Istanbul, I am going to do it on the first day to get rid of the travel weariness and the last day to walk out of Istanbul completely relaxed.

(originally published on blueorangeart.com)

Entrepreneur of the year goes to the old man on the street in Istanbul

Yesterday, I was at Emononu, a ferry station in Istanbul and spotted one of the most entrepreneurial person that I have seen. I was blown away by his entrepreneurial spirit.

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PC: Harpreet Singh

The Sultanahmet area in Istanbul is teeming with tourists and so if you are a tourist and have spent anywhere beyond a day or two, you get used to being approached by shop salesmen trying to entice you with their wares. I don’t want you to get an impression that these guys are in your face and asking you to see something without an iota of originality in their sales pitches (a la a phone vendor in a typical US mall). Almost all of the guys have a super interesting hook to start a conversation with you and bring you into their shops.

These sales guys set a high bar — they nail the cold call opening!

Perhaps the highest bar in selling was set by Ibrahim at the Tuncer Gift shop who by far has been amongst the best salesperson I have ever seen and I have worked with many. Ibrahim had a unique conversational style that differentiates him over everyone else. He differentiated himself as opposed to the goods while selling commodity goods through a shop. (See his TripAdvisor reviews). Perhaps, I need to write a blog about Ibrahim but I have digressed.

Now coming back to street vendors, my default reaction to street vendors — typically guys carrying tea, chips or other such sundries is a terse no. That’s just the way it is, I don’t want to hear or even see what the vendor is offering. I presume this is the reaction of most folks when approached by street vendors.

Anyways — so if I have painted the picture that between the high salesmanship standards by shop salesman, my general dislike to being approached by street vendors and the fact that this was my third day in Istanbul that it was a high bar for someone to standout.

Then, we saw him and lets call him Abu (Urdu for father) an elderly gentleman, perhaps in his late 60s or early 70s, with a weather beaten face. Not the ones that look tired and indicate a life endured by hardship but a weather beaten face with an underlying glow backed with a smile that shows a life well lived and worked hard with honesty and integrity. He was wearing a suit and in the middle of 24C day, it must have been genuinely warm. The suit was worn down too.

Abu had a canon camera around his neck and a a big bag slung over his shoulder.

The bag had a kodak photo printer hacked with a battery pack to provide power to the photo printer!

Abu, thus had positioned himself next to the ferry station of the Bosphorus tour and was reaching out to tourists who were waiting for the next tour to start at the dock and getting them to take a picture. His unique selling point, was a hard copy of your photograph. Not a regular tea vendor — that wasn’t for him.

Why did we give in and get a picture clicked?

He had a photo frame!!!

He was framing the pictures in a photo frame and I (Mr. Customer) got a choice between two colours. Totally unexpected and completely delightful (delighters anybody?).

This is interesting in itself while we were waiting and not really looking at him. We saw him from the corner of our eyes, he had just finished taking a picture of a Russian family and then get this — he offered them a choice of white or a black paper frame to go along with the picture. The guy had thought about everything — amazing.

When we saw the picture frame, my wife and me decided we have to take a picture from this enterprising human.

Here is the picture that he took for us.

Delightful product and elated customers

Now, I typically will not pose for pictures and Abu made us pose right for a great picture and he did that every other customer that we saw. All in the 30 seconds that it took him to take the picture while not speaking a word of english. Amazing!

I regret not taking his picture though :-(.

So Abu from my point of view has done everything right as a CEO of Abu, Inc.

  • Product — check. A high quality hard copy picture of your family while you wait impatiently to get on the Bosphorus tour. This is not the crappy grainy picture that comes from a Polaroid.
  • Marketing specifically packaging — a picture frame to enticingly frame your picture so that it doesn’t end up in a drawer somewhere. This is where Abu nailed it imo — he truly brought in the notion of a delighter and absolutely surprised his customers and delivered more than they signed up for.
  • Sales — Perfect timing to approach customers. There is about 10–15 minutes to spare between buying a ticket and boarding and people usually don’t have much to do but get bored watching the boats.

All this for 4TL or about $1!

I wonder how things could be so much different if he was in Silicon Valley — he could very well be running a successful company.

But then again, who says he is not successful?

Understanding Recurrent Neural Networks (RNNs)

Neural Networks (NNs) that depend on past history are called Recurrent Neural Networks (RNNs). The technical term is networks that depend on temporal dependencies or dependencies that change based on time are called RNNs.

This class of NN’s are distinct than the ones that, for example, do image recognition which do not have dependencies on time. RNN’s have wider applications because most applications have dependencies that depend on time. A key challenge in RNNs is the vanishing gradient problem in which the contribution of information or memory (in the next paragraph) decays geometrically over time.

rnn-cell
Basic Cell in a RNN

The basic idea is that you take a feed forward NN (FFNN) and introduce internal memory state that takes the output from the internal training layer. Thus, our FFNN now remembers what happened before.  For completeness, prediction can be 1..n.

The next step is to chain each of these cells together.

Thus, a RNN is a combination of multiple such cells where multiple inputs are fed into different cells (think prediction of next word is dependent on the last few words), each cell has it’s own memory coming in from its previous iteration and each cell goes ahead and makes its own prediction.

rnns.png
RNNs

The beauty of RNNs is that they can be stacked as lego blocks. To imagine this, think about the above picture as 1 RNN lego block and make the prediction layer feed into another RNN block stacked above it.

Applications

There are some interesting use cases for RNNs:

  • Sentiment analysis
  • Speech recognition
  • Time series prediction
  • Natural language processing
  • Gesture Recognition

Amazon Lex provides a framework to build conversational interfaces using voice and text with .

Show me the money framework for improving decision making skills

PC: Michel Curi

2017 was the year I agonised over buying a Tesla Model X. I ran through all the reasons I needed it — beautiful, gorgeous, drives fantastic, best technology and green. I just couldn’t come to a conclusion, because the price was a serious consideration. The problem at hand was that the reasons I wanted to buy it were intangibles.

That brings us to a key component in decision making — what do you do when you are facing a decision and there are numerous intangibles at hand? Paraphrasing Lord Kelvin, the famous British physicist, “The challenge of intangibles — when you can measure something and express something in numbers, you know what you are speaking about. If you cannot speak about it in numbers, then the knowledge is meager and you have scarcely advanced the state of science.”

As I looked around in other areas of my life, I saw that there were a number of other decisions that I couldn’t make progress on. They were also stuck because of intangibles. Some good examples that come to mind in the life of a product manager are: the value of open source software, when your product is driven by OSS; the value of adoption of open source software; what does virality mean for success of a product — how much should we be investing in virality; how to choose between competing features to make the most impact for the organization. I could talk to these decisions very well, had anecdotal evidence and experts backing those decisions…but they fundamentally were intangibles.

I have always been fascinated by literature on decision making and find that most recommendations range from “Just do it” to mind-numbing, if-then-else analysis. Douglas Hubbard presents a scientific, probability-based framework to reduce uncertainty through your decision making progress.

Paraphrasing Hubbard, “Decisions fundamentally are about a choice in the path ahead where decision makers have imperfect information. This lack of information causes uncertainty. Measurement is a type of choice among others to reduce this uncertainty. For any decision, you can typically measure a large combination of things, but you can never achieve perfect certainty.”

Thus, the right way to think about decisions is that a decision is a decision because one cannot articulate the right value of each of the choices ahead. The way to reduce the uncertainty, then, is to measure the things that reduce that uncertainty, knowing fully well that you cannot — and should not — measure everything that informs the decision, because too much information causes information overload. The key part of measurement is to assign an economic value to the measurement. Let’s say, you as a decision maker are looking to improve delivery of value from the organization. Measuring productivity of employees could be a type of measurement, and instead of measuring how much time an employee spends on each of the activities, quantify the business value of each of the areas she spends most of her hours on. Thus, if you get the employee to spend more time on activities that drive more business value, you can get more productivity from the system.

So how does one proceed, so that one isn’t stuck at the end of a spectrum that has “just do it” as the starting point and “analysis paralysis” as the ending point?

The ladder of better decision making starts by stepping back and questioning the decision. Check if you are asking the right question. Most hard problems in life and business can be solved by asking the right questions. If you are indeed asking the right question, then do the following (Hubbard calls it Applied Information Economics; with some color from my past readings on this topic).

  1. Define the decision. If the decision isn’t informing a significant bet, don’t measure anything. If the decision is easily reversible, just make a decision and move on.
  2. Determine what you know about the decision. Identify the key informational vectors that inform you more about the decision (hours working, vs hours spent on the most impactful activity).
  3. Compute the value of additional information (if none, go to step 5). Additional information is the information that you need to drill down into and measure.
  4. Measure where information value is high (return to steps 2 and 3). High information value implies tying some sort of economic benefit to it (improving productivity implied measuring and identifying most impactful hours). This really is the key to better decision making — tying some sort of economic value to your intangibles.
  5. Make a decision and act on it (return to step 1 and repeat as each action creates new decisions).

Typically, as you do steps 3, 4 and 5, you will find that each decision opens a cascade of micro-decisions that may have their own measurements to help build the case for the overarching decisions that you will rinse and repeat on.

So how did this framework help me?

  • I made the call on the Tesla before I read the book and was pleasantly surprised that my mental model roughly followed the framework. I put an economic value on each of the subjective axis, compared with the cost of the vehicle and came up short. I passed over the Tesla for a Lexus RX 350, knowing full well that I will evaluate my decision in the year ahead and these values may change — c’est la vie.
  • On the “business value” delivered by my team, I have instituted a “business value pointing” system offered by a tool called Aha. The vectors that constitute the business point are subjective. That is okay, because the scores on the vectors are informed by the expertise that my team has built up so far. We are drilling down on step 3 right now.
  • On understanding the “value of adoption of OSS” or “virality of a product” — I am on a journey and am hoping to find the right measurements to taking the decisions from “expert-led” to a state of science.

What decision frameworks work for you? Let me know in the comments section, below.

– Article heavily influenced by How to Measure Everything, by Douglas Hubbard.

Weekly newsletter #3 – 4 leadership principles to live by

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I am in Maui this week and spent 2 days learning the theory on scuba diving only to discover that I failed and hated it. A blog coming next week about it. Meanwhile, here are the 9 things that I thought were worth sharing this week. Enjoy!

  1. [Leadership|Startup] My article on 4 key principles to become a good leader .
  2. [Life] Enjoy Tony Farhkry’s article about trusting the journey life is taking one on.
  3. [Work Life Balance]  Are you a workaholic?
  4. [Eye Candy]  Maui no words necessary!
  5. [Ear Candy]  Maui sound necessary!
  6. [Inspiration|Leadership] Simon Sinek’s “Start with the why” is seminal work – Ted talk and my book notes here
  7. [Health] Stu runs 1000+ miles without carbs. Read the exec summary from my book notes.
  8. [Picture] A billion caret diamond in Vatnajokull glacier in Iceland – one of mine :-).
  9. [Meditation] How to effortlessly move into meditation or fall asleep ;-).

Thanks for reading this newsletter, if you liked it forward it to a friend or tweet me some love. Past issues here.

Mahalo,
– Harpreet

A simple startup technique for meditations

Just as with the circle of life, every meditation session is bookended by a starting up and a closing phase. Just as with birth where a good nine months with a good delivery will set the baby up for a healthy life versus one with struggle, a good startup phase makes all the difference between a good meditation session or one with struggle.

The starting up phase is important to calm your mind to get it to a place so that you can meditate. Most people will run around the whole day, be incredibly stressed throughout the day and expect that there should be no thoughts passing through their mind, the moment they sit down for meditation. How is that even possible?

The starting up usually lasts between a minute to ten, twenty or more minutes. More stressful your day, the longer your startup phase is a pretty good rule of thumb.

The technique

The credit of the technique is to Avadhoot Baba Shivanand from whom I have learnt most things meditations and perhaps more importantly the philosophy of living. This isn’t a key technique in his teaching and hence I feel comfortable sharing it. The technique itself:

Imagine yourself on a beach, put your face in the sand and breathe in. If you have imagined it right, a lot of sand should have come in your nose and you should have some minor mental annoyance. Now, breathe finer and finer. Your aim is to make your breathing so fine that no sand particles enter your nose. Done!

Conclusion

In about 5 minutes or so, you will find yourself in a very deep state of relaxation and meditation just happens with absolutely no struggle. If you do this lying down, you fill fall asleep in about 10 minutes.

If you want to be a good leader, live these 4 principles

“Look at what you have built – did you ever imagine that this was going to be so big?” A colleague asked me this question at a team event fairly recently.

My answer – “always”. I was confident in my response because I had laboured over for years on the degree of impact my/team leadership had on the realisation of goals dreamt years ago.

We had grown rapidly for years and I knew that I was doing something right but couldn’t boil it down to it’s essence. Then, a few years ago, I was at a Tony Robbins event where it struck me that I/our team was living the principles that he often talks about.

Principle #1: See things as they are

Not positive or negative but as they are. People usually fall into two camps: Glass half full or glass half empty.

The glass half empty camp looks at the world cynically – “things are never going to be better around here”. These are people that you should avoid – I know because I used to be one of them. I had role models who were cynical and responded to new ideas with a snarky comment – “Utterly uncool to try this new idea because it won’t work”… and it is devastating to effect any type of change.

The glass half full camp looks at the world optimistically – “things aren’t bad, they are actually wonderful and for the the stuff that doesn’t work, we will vision board the heck out of it”. I swung my pendulum from the cynical side to this side but slowly realised  that there always remained an incongruence between reality and the optimistic version which wasn’t healthy. Plus, one can never tell if things can get better because everything is pretty good to begin with. Ironically, wide-eyed enthusiast and a sceptic may end up achieving similar results. That said, I’d rather have an optimist on the team than a sceptic because coming into work is easy.

I have always looked for the buddhist “middle way” to bring disparate viewpoints together. In this case, the third way is that the glass is both half full and half empty at the same time and that is truly pragmatic.

Translated to leadership, the first principle is where you recognise the strengths and your weaknesses and your landscape. You aren’t irrationally optimist or pessimist but pragmatic.

This becomes all the more important in the startup world because your glass in a startup world is truly not half full but perhaps 1/8th full. You have some strengths and you have a number of weaknesses. Too often startups make mistakes because they either over-estimate their strengths “our key recipe is our secret algorithm that will make us successful” or under-estimate their weaknesses “we don’t need sales yet because our customer success team will create the necessary virality”.

Unless you have the capability to realistically assess where you are it is difficult to go to where you need to be. This brings me to principle #2.

Principle #2: See things better than they are

Essentially, know where the summit is where the flag has to be posted.

Why are you here in this businesses? You saw where things are and you know how to improve them. You have defined your why and  you will start your journey to the summit.  Some entrepreneurs do this very well but most are rather optimistic “we will change the world” … by bringing in app that sends a “yo” to someone-else – you get the point! This is why principle #1 is important comes before #2 to bring in pragmatism. As a leader, it is your responsibility to keep the audacious goals in the realm of achievability – usually this is backed by your domain and market expertise.

The eye-on-the-summit all the time is an important skill because others on your team won’t see it or believe it. I was often met with an incredulous look when I would call out the summit. Gradually, I learnt that some people cannot handle the summit height when they are at the base of the mountain and you have to break the summit down into series of milestones. I put people into circles and chose to expose the level of milestones, the summit or even multiple summits based on their capability to digest this information without freaking out.

 

Principle 3: Make things the way you see it

Easier said than done. You know the summit, where you are and then the journey begins. The journey is always two steps forward, 1 sideways, 1 forward and two backwards.

One of the key points that I have learnt here is that you need to be resourceful (Tony Robbins speak). Being resourceful implies doing a number of small experiments to see which ones work and tend to them further. I hate the term fail-fast because I find that fail-fast fosters a mental attitude of surrendering. I prefer that the investment in small experiments are based on hypothesis that are rooted in some prior work or research and then there is a healthy amount of investment done to prove or disprove the hypothesis.

Being resourceful also means to be out of a comfort zone tending into an eustress environment. A good marketing example is that writing a blog isn’t enough but getting it syndicated is called success; more so if syndicated on publications you have no prior relationship with. This will bring out the inner resourceful tiger in you. I have found that OKRs tend to foster the resourceful behaviour more than other commonly used management by objectives metrics.

Principle 4: Communicate, communicate and over-communicate

This was one of my most painful experiences growing as a leader. I would put the “plays” down, talk to the teams to make sure that everybody was on the same page and when I circled back, I found that there was a game of whispers going on and people were lost.

People don’t really listen the first, the second or the third time and when they don’t the empty vacuum is filled by conjecture or juxtaposition.

Over a period of time, I learnt to my job was largely defined to keep repeating the why, where we are and the goal post and I had to do that in one-on-ones, public setting, over drinks and dinners.

I have been doing these 4 principles repeatedly

My normal pattern for years has been been now to dive in, determine the landscape pragmatically, determine the north pole, start working on getting things to the north pole and communicate repeatedly on why we are doing on what we are doing.

These principles are (credit in huge part to Tony Robbins for laying them succinctly):

  1. See things as they are
  2. See things better than they are
  3. Make it the way you see it and
  4. Communicate repeatedly (TR doesn’t talk about this principle)

You have live these principles on a daily basis to truly bring your team forward. Tying back to my colleagues question to me on whether I dreamt of the success we would achieve – absolutely.

I’d really love to hear from you on this topic and if you decide to bring them in, share your experience with me. If you live by other leadership principles, share them with me too.

Optimal behaviour before big decisions

If you ever held a job that requires you to drive long distances or hop into trains switch to a cab etc etc, you surely have noticed that you arrive tired at work. But that’s not all, there is something more insidious that is going below the surface – you maybe making bad decisions that grow progressively worse before the day ends.

The reason for bad decisions is decision fatigue . Decision fatigue states that there is a finite amount of decisions that humans have a capacity to make in a day. It’s like going to the refrigerator to pour a glass of water without replenishing the container and doing that over and over again. A long commute is a sum total of minor decisions taken repeatedly – get in the car, find the optimal route to the train station, be constantly mindful that you don’t bump into the neighbouring traffic and so on. Thus, it makes sense that a long commute would eat into your capacity to make good decisions.

How do we counteract decision fatigue? What’s the antidote?

Decision fatigue was popularised in the last couple of years and I find that most people are aware of it but they aren’t aware of the antidote. In the last 30 years, new research called Attention Restorative Theory (ART) has indicated that spending time in nature has a restorative effect on humans (surprise!).

The nub is that human attention is classified into two components – involuntary and voluntary attention. Voluntary attention is used in making decisions. When you are in nature, walking through the woods there is an aspect of the environment called fascination which generates awe in people which gives the voluntary attention a rest. Spend enough time in nature and the lesser your voluntary attention is used and the better you will get making decisions that require this voluntary attention.

pm-summit-matterhorn

Thus, the optimal behaviour before you need to make big decisions is to go out and take a walk in the nature, look at something that generates fascination in you and give your voluntary attention a break!