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“Life is all that happens when we are busy planning for it”

I had heard this way back, and had smiled at it. Being the person that I am, I smiled thinking how people living their lives on their own terms would laugh upon this and say its not true. They will laugh on people who plan, plan and plan but never act. Never get enough momentum, enough reason to get their plans in action. And meanwhile life takes its own turns and twists, making all their plans useless in one stroke. Many people refer to this as luck!

Then there are people who plan things really deep… deep to the extent of making it a totally foolproof plan. Problem with foolproof plans is that it strives on plan B and plan C, which are not really foolproof. So when your foolproof plan fails because of luck or “acts of God”, they blame externalities and go to plan B and plan C. But they don’t just to plan B and C, then panic and rush to these B and C plans, they often miss out planning the movement to plan B and C, and hence though they have backup plans, these backup plans backfire stupendously. When their master plan fails, their confidence on their own planning skills, their execution capabilities take a hit, and this gives a severe blow to the execution of plan B and C. So however good is their backup plan, they don’t get to execute it the way they would have loved to.

So then is what this quote says true – does really life is all that happens when we are busy planning for it? Does really planning ever helps in life?

I would say, it helps when you do it at broad levels. While it is always good to plan things to tee, it should be done when you have parameters on which success of plan depends in your control, or plan to get them under your control. Given the externalities that life throws at you at every other moment, it’s best to plan for broad objectives that you want to achieve, and leave the “reaching there” part to the doer when he is doing it on field. Plan for distance that you can see and visualize sitting at your couch, but not for the potholes and blind turns that you don’t know are present there on those roads. Let your better sense of judgment and common sense tackle these twists and turns on ground. Keeping an eye on the big picture will be sufficient to direct you through these unexpected events on your planned track.

So there you are… I had not planned this blog post word by word, but it happened as I started writing. So plan your life to the level that you always know what direction you need to take at every fork on road. No point in planning to drive down the road but not knowing which turn to take! Plan what you can plan, and be ready to take on what you cannot plan.

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It has been a long hiatus from blogging. Have had several things to blog about – movies, books, interesting people and encounters and also loads of travel. I almost always had blog posts ready in my mind, but nothing could make it to blog, purely owing to procrastination from my side. So it’s perfectly fitting that what I am blogging about after this long is procrastination itself.

Recently I read this interesting article about procrastination. From stating that “Procrastination is basic human impulse” to identifying “divided and competing selves of same individual” as key reason for procrastination, this article goes into in-depth scientific analysis of why people procrastinate and what can one learn about procrastinator’s mindset by studying this behaviour. The overall tone is that procrastination is a vice, and it is definitely the most common ‘weakness’ for all candidates filling personal details section of any job/education application. But more I think of it, I feel it’s not all that bad, and that it has some positives also.

Though I have intently tried not to, I myself have been in the shoes of procrastinator often, especially off-late after I have done my MBA and supposedly have a more evolved thought-process 🙂 . I don’t think it’s just coincidence, rather I feel it has a lot to do with the tendency of adjusting to unfolding information and managing things as they come.

Let’s first agree that procrastination is not shirking work. Procrastinator is a rational person who genuinely intends to do the task, but always finds a valid reason to postpone it to a later date. He is not avoiding responsibility but instead is always intelligently and dynamically prioritizing other important tasks over the one he is procrastinating. He is not just simply making excuses every time he is not doing the task, but instead is generating more and more options of optimally utilizing the available resources. He is not taking losses when he does not do the task, instead he is on the fly creating newer and newer scenarios of doing the same task on a later date and still achieving the optimal result out of it. He is continuously doing the cost-benefit analysis of utilizing the available time for the task and impact it will have in the larger scheme of affairs. And the rational fellow he is, he ends up finding reasons – mind it, very valid and creative reasons – of not doing the task at that moment.

When one procrastinates, he is actually intelligently evaluating option of doing thing now or later – a process which indicates the evolved thought-process that one not only possesses, but also applies in daily life. Procrastinator is not in a military setup where all that he has to do is blindly follow orders; he is not slave of any mechanized setting where something has to be done only in a specified way, in pre-decided time duration and at the standardized time. Instead he is always pushing his rational thinking, his creativity, his analytical thinking process and his intellect in general to newer limits. He is mastering the art of prioritizing things on the fly based on the continuous inputs that he is getting from universe!

So all those who are still identifying procrastination as their weakness, you guys need a serious rethink and introspection; and appreciate the incredible service procrastination has been doing towards evolution of human beings!!! World needs to wake up to procrastination that is the being a critical stimulus for human creativity to flourish… and is continuously allowing more critical and important tasks to be done before the less important ones, so that this world can be a better place sooner than one is thinking it can be!!! 🙂

Image Credits: fopaws.com, glasbergen.com

 

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Kite Runner is an intense book. It has been a best-seller across the world, and I might have been quite late to awake to the riches of Khaled Hosseini’s writing. But I have never been a fiction-reader either. Still this book kept me glued, and I had to complete it before it goes back and down the stack of books in my cupboard.

Much has already been written about Kite Runner book, there have been plenty of reviews and also a movie based on it. It’s a story of two kids who grew up together and were almost brothers – but couldn’t be because one was son of master and other was son of slave. Slave-kid is ready to take on anything in life for his master’s son, whereas master’s kid stands as a meek mute spectator when the slave-kid is being insulted. This guilt never allows master’s kid to live a normal life, but destiny gives him a chance to pay back the price of his meekness and get the burden of guilt off his chest.

Kite Runner

Story is beautifully weaved in the Afghan country of 1980s. The portrayal of Afghanistan and its culture is simply amazing. What beautiful country it must have been! How beautiful their culture has been! Khaled has very nicely crafted the character of Baba – father of the master-kid – a virtuous, god-fearing, respected, stern Afghan lord. You can feel the strength of his character in the story.

Khaled has also portrayed with full life the brutality of Soviet invasion and the destruction it caused to the whole of Afghanistan and its culture. The plight of the wealthy noble Afghan lord, his meek child, and the also the brave but unfortunate slave-kid is horrifying to read. While the heart keeps on saying that this is just a fiction and not to be believed, we all know what mess Afghanistan has been for decades now. I have been reading about the rich culture and life and history of that part of the world, and this novel gave me one very dreaded glimpse of how horrible life have been there since the cold-war days Soviet invasion.

The story of guilt of the key protagonist of the novel is also heart-touching. And it leaves me with a question difficult to answer.

I guess every sane mind and feeling heart will have some guilt or other that keeps pricking him every now and then. It is up to the heart and mind to decide what to do with it. Should the guilt be simply swept to a dark corner of life and heart and forgotten with an iron lid on it, or accept it as your destiny and live with that for your whole life. While forgetting the guilt behind that iron curtain would just turn heart into a stone that hundred more such “guilts” won’t matter to it; making an irony of the iron-lid heart it is. You may decide to live with it if you want to. If you have an option, you would want to go back and set things right, set the canvas back to blank and move ahead in life – hopefully becoming enough careful and concerned that you don’t ever get into any other guilt-trap. That’s what our master-kid does when he goes back to the troubled homeland to hopefully set the wrongs that happened of him in his childhood.

But what do you do if this is not an option… If there is no chance to go back and erase all the black letters that life happened to write on naïve white slate of life… If the guilt is something which is going to be like the sore thorn that neither can be pulled out, nor be just brushed off in the deep pit of forgetfulness of mind and heart… What if you have to live life with that dark ugly feeling of letting down someone who was counting on you, dreaded feeling of helplessness of not being able to do you bit when it was required the most, horrible feeling of being guilty of your own soul.

Guess there isn’t an escape out of this. Mind and heart has to come to peace with it and accept it as the resident sorrow of life. The guilty serpent will have to keep crawling on its belly; Adam’s apple is going to stay stuck in the throat. Souls guilty of guilt will remain slaves of the guilt forever… till the radiance of forgiveness and peace of being true to yourself don’t cleanse you off this blot of guilt.

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On March 11th this year, Facebook went for a redesign. The new design drew a lot of flak across the web. A Facebook polling application on the new site layout had 800,000 votes in 1 week, of which a resounding 95% gave it a Thumbs Down (link). We had users thrashing the new design with comments like “I hate it and if it doesn’t change I will only check it once in awhile.”

So what should have been the result? A fall in traffic for Facebook; or a mass exodus (or reduction in usage) of these disappointed and angry users. But what we are seeing instead is continuous and explosive growth in traffic and user-base of Facebook. In fact since March 2009, Facebook user-base has only grown (check the graph below). Facebook blog suggests that its registered user-base has grown from 200 million in April 2009 to 250 million in July 2009!

Facebook Unique Visitors Traffic

Facebook Unique Visitors Traffic

And for all the theories of “listening to customers” and the like, Facebook founder Mark Zukerberg actually sent out a mail to his employees reacting to this criticism for the new design implying “companies are stupid for listening to their customers” and “the most disruptive companies don’t listen to their customers” (link).

Does this signify pure arrogance and complete apathy towards customer feedback on part of Facebook? Facebook is a social networking product and a conversation among its members is the key offering. How can then Facebook risk disapproval of the very channel and way in which these conversations are taking place and getting shared on its network?

Mark Zuckerberg, Founder, Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg, Founder, Facebook

Or on the flip side, does this hint at how well Zukerberg knows his customers. Zukerberg knows why his users come to the site, and also at the same time perfectly understands why they would stay with Facebook. There is always a resistance to any change (whether good or bad), and when it is change to something as routine as Facebook has become for millions across the world, it was bound to create some noise.

Never has customer come up and told an innovator what innovation he needs. Back then in March, Facebook had just made an unsuccessful attempt to acquire Twitter for $500 million. This new design was an attempt to make the user-generated content more sharable. The wall posting on profile page had given way to “What’s on your mind?” status messages. Sharing external link or multi-media became easier. ‘Highlights’ on right hand column allowed popular and sticky content in your network become more prominent.

Public memory, in India and everywhere, is short. The huge uproar against the new design died out silently, and now everyone seems to have adjusted to it and is at peace with it. Facebook knows that it has crossed way back the critical mass barrier every social network faces. Its members have created huge networks on Facebook and viral effect of this network is bringing more and more members to the network. Content (user-generated) is sticky, and gets updated on regular basis. So unless you utterly mess with the design, users will be happy with what they have.

What is your take on this?

[Mark Zuckerberg Image Credit: Flickr]

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Social Media is the latest buzz word in the internet world. Everything around us over internet is turning social, and we now have social media stalwarts like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter as new-age internet heroes. While everywhere social media is being touted as next stage of evolution over internet, there are still many Doubting Thomases who are yet to open their eyes to this phenomenon of Social Media. This presentation from Espresso should help them understand why whole world is going gaga over social media:

 

There are some remarkable comments in presentation on social media, and my favourite has been “If your product sucks, social media won’t fix it… If your customer service sucks, social media can help”. Drives home the whole concept of social media in one shot.

What does this social media phenomenon mean for Indian businesses?

The first and most easy application for Indian marketers is that of exploiting the celebrity brand power over social media. Major part of user-generated content from India, like elsewhere in the world, is around celebrity. YouTube is filled with videos from Bollywood, TV serials and celebrity mishaps ;). Many media houses now have official channels over YouTube to promote their productions, like this one from Eros. When drama-queen Rakhi Sawant was to decide whom to marry over television, we had Rakhi Sawant as trending topic worldwide over Twitter (check this). Social media is all about conversations and nothing can beat the attraction of talking to superstars through this medium. Celebrities like Priyanka Chopra, Gul Panag, Mallika Sherawat, Preity Zinta already hve built good following on Twitter. Soon we will have brand endorsement deals covering publicity over social media as well. India is celebrity-crazy country and no wonder brand endorsement fees by celebrities run into multiple crores. If tapped properly, a decent part of this can start flowing into these social mediums. Social Media provides a superb channel to use this leverage of celebrity brand-power and lure customers.

This, for certain, can be the immediate application of social media for Indian businesses, besides many others about which I will be talking soon. Keep checking.

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Yahoo! has finally lost the search battle. It gave up its own search and now a few months old Bing will power Yahoo!’s search. But before we write obituary of Yahoo! Search, there are a few immediate questions that come to my mind:

  • Flikr Integration: Yahoo! had a fantastic integration of Flickr in Image Search which made it comparable to Google in terms of relevancy. Will Yahoo! open Flickr to Bing as well? Image search on Bing sucks big time
  • Mobile Search – oneSearch: How about ‘oneSearch’? Yahoo! has a good mobile search product in oneSearch and its federated search result pages were a big hit, and had higher market share than Google in many local markets
  • Local Search: What happens to Yahoo! Local Search? Or for that matter other search verticals like Jobs, News, Maps? Of all these, Yahoo! had poured a lot of money in Local Search, and I guess Bing is nowhere close to Yahoo! in these verticals. The minority of loyal Yahoo! search users is only going to shrink further if Bing powers these search verticals. A huge opportunity to compete with Google in these verticals (where actually Yahoo! was not lagging way behind of Google and was doing comparably well) goes down the drain
  • Social Search: There was a lot of talk of integrating Del.icio.us with Yahoo! Search, which I thought had great promise. Search needs to be more social, and success of Twitter as search engine is for everyone to see. With a strong social bookmarking product like Del.icio.us with it, Yahoo! could have done a lot in search. Wonder what happens now with search technology getting outsourced to Bing?
  • Glue: What happens to Glue? Yahoo! launched it last year as a new search product and Yahoo! India Search have Glue pages for a large chunk of popular queries

These questions may be of no relevance once Yahoo! says that its technology is not the one which can provide the best search experience to its user. And as it says that, Yahoo! writes-off all the investment it had put over years in improving its search engine and adding those awesome search features like ‘Search Assist’ to the latest one of ‘Search Pad’. With this, it also writes-off all the effort engineers there had put in building the search and its various features. Carol Bartz announced that there will be lay-offs in search team, and am sure elsewhere also in Yahoo! there will be a huge attrition now.

May be Yahoo! should have just spun-off Yahoo! Search as separate company. That would have unlocked the real value of rest of Yahoo!’s businesses in which it is doing quite well (It is still the most trafficked portal in world. Display advertisement remains Yahoo!’s forte altogether). Market would have determined the right value for this separate search company, and am sure Yahoo! would have got a better price for it than what it has got in this deal.

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Empires of the Indus

“Empires of the Indus – The Story of a River” is a book about river Indus – the river which gave our country her name, her culture. Everybody in India must have read about the Indus valley civilization and would immediately recollect seeing in their history textbooks the pictures of broken statue of dancing lady and bullock cart from the ruins of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro cities from this civilization. So when I read that this book was about the journey of author from the mouth of river Indus at Karachi, Pakistan to its source in Tibet, China, I knew I had to pick this up. This is a book which I picked up without any recommendation, and I am so pleased that I went by my intuition. This is surely one of the best books I have read off late.

Author Alice Albinia is a British historian and I must say has done a marvelous job of taking her readers through an amazing journey along the river Indus – of not only the approximately 3,200 KM that the river flows, but also of more than 4500 years back in history. Historical accounts, even when they are told more as stories, get boring at times, especially when they are meant to infer something, or worse to glorify or demean some character or ideology. Alice beautifully stays away from all this, and stimulates your imagination and creativity every time she recreates the historical moments which this river has witnessed over thousands of years.

These are the moments when the Aryans invaders crossed the river and drove away the original inhabitants and established what we call today the Vedic culture…

These are the moments when Buddha’s teachings were inscribed on stones along the river by the first emperor king of country The Ashoka and were spread by monks west across river to present day Afghanistan and north to Ladakh and Tibet…

These are the moments when Alexander the Great must have stood atop the hill at tiny village of Pirsar in present day north Pakistan and looked down and across the river with the thought of conquering what he thought was the last kingdom before the eastern edge of world…

These are the moments when traders carried silk and gold and other precious materials along “The Silk Route” crossing the treacherous terrain of mountains from Tibet to Central Asia…

These are the moments when Muslim Sultans from Muhammad Ghazni to Moghals looted and plundered country’s wealth and propagated their faith, more often than not forcefully…

These are the moments when the Great Gurus like Nanak and Gobind Singh laid the foundation of Sikhism and Emperor Ranjit Singh defended it fiercely from every attack…

In this story of the river, Alice tells us the sub-stories about the Karachi city which was transformed overnight by the Partition into a city of refugees (just like what happened to Delhi), about the Sufi sect and their magical ways, about the African slaves brought to sub-continent through slave trade, about the matriarchal culture practiced by pre-historic people of this land, about the mystical Kalash people who believe they are direct descendants of Aryans and many more such wonders.

It is such a shame that we know so little about history of Pakistan, which barring these last 60 years have been part of our country – making its history our own. It surprises me to no end when I am told that the hills we now call area of Taliban and violent Al-Qaeda hosted Taxilla which was once home of Buddhist teachings of peace and harmony; when I am told that what we call the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is the very place where the most ancient of all Vedas – The Rig Veda was written.

Alice effortlessly moves back and forth across thousands of years of history, her language is lucid and description crisp. She keeps linking the glorious rich past of the river to the present socio-economic penury of religious intolerance and of water shortage – which has brought the two countries at war so often. Through this book, Alice brings to us the forgotten river which gave our country her identity. For all those inclined towards history, and appreciate the fact that last 60 years of animosity with Pakistan is a blink when it comes to thousands of years of being one country, this is an amazing opportunity to know about ourselves and our history.

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