Monday, 4 November 2019

A write up - Integrity – A Way of Life!

In a way, the words ‘Life’ and ‘Integrity’ are synonymous. Ask me how? Come to think of it, can life even exist if it is not an integrated ‘self-sustaining’ piece? Life is here on this planet ONLY because, the very silent neutron and the centerpiece proton encircled by the hyperactive electrons ‘stay together’ in harmony. If their bond becomes unstable or ‘unreliable’, they disintegrate and life, as we know, ceases to BE.
The usual and casual question humans ask when they meet is ‘How is life?’ It is also customary to either say ‘Fine’ as a mechanical reply or if time is there, crib about our current ‘life situations’ rather than connecting with the pulsating life inside. Looking at human life, it is crystal clear that ‘integrity’ forms the bedrock of our very existence. Nature is testimony to this fact that any imbalance in co-existence leads to chaos and calamities.
Coming to social life, if there is a discord between ‘what we say and what do’, cracks in our personality are spotted easily by fellow beings around. Integrity is in fact the hall mark of leadership and it is undoubtedly because our Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, ‘walked his talk’ that an illiterate and afraid population of 30 crore Indians followed him with fervor to achieve freedom.
While for decades’ various leaders struggled to bring focus to the Indian freedom movement, in one act of sacrificing his attire and integrating himself with the poor masses of the country, Gandhi could muster enormous following and achieved Indian Independence. The citizen did not see any gap between his ‘sayings’ and his ‘doing’. Because of his ‘integrated self’ that he is called ‘Mahatma’.
Coming to commercial organizations, where economy dictates actions, practicing what we preach through manuals, procedures, policies and circulars has to become a way of life. Else, compromises creep in and rationalizing actions to achieve quick results will erode credibility of individuals. The very journey is as important, if not more, as the destination. Any ‘means’ cannot be adopted to achieve intended ‘ends’.
After all, organization is nothing but a group of individuals with a same purpose and therefore Integrity of the Institution is dependent upon every single member and his/her everyday actions. Employees must not only be transparent in decision and action but also seen to be fair by customers and stake holders.
Humanity’s perennial problem is due to the unstable mind housed in a stable body. While the body ‘takes care of itself’ even when we are asleep during night and in fact repairs and integrates itself to keep it ready for the next sunrise, once woken up, all hell breaks loose due to the non-stop non-sense called the mind. While ‘conscience’ makes feeble attempts to keep the man on his tracks, the din in the head ‘interprets’ situations to suit his survival moment to moment.
Have we not heard of persons of repute ruining their image due to one-little misstep in their lives? The challenge, therefore, before us is to make integrity as a way of life. How do we do it? Just like the way we do most of our daily mundane activities in a ‘habitual manner’, without even requiring our high-level-modules of our brain to attend to, being transparent and fair should become part of our ‘selves’. A secret to achieve this is to keep watching the ‘monkey’ mind and leave it always tamed to our conscience.

The Invisible Gorilla by Christopher Chabris & Daniel Simons

How Our Intuitions Deceive Us

If someone is thinking that having watched so long their minds and hence ‘they know’ or worse still they have ‘mastered the monkey mind’, here is a book which explodes all such myths. Surprisingly, the authors prove that we ACTUALLY don’t know much of how our mind works. They do it through revealing six illusions our minds ‘make up’ for us to create ‘our reality’: The illusion of attention, illusion of memory, illusion of confidence, illusion of knowledge, illusion of potential, illusion of cause and as a bonus, our change-blindness.

In this book, they also give a serious warning against cell phone driving. Why? It is not that we humans are incapable of multitasking. But the danger is the “illusion of attention”. They undoubtedly prove that because of the demand on the resources of attention on our minds during cell phone driving that we miss out on the little crucial visual inputs vital for instant decision making on the roads. While the muscle memory may drive comfortably, the ‘unexpected’ arrival of people and objects in our conscious screen while driving makes it nearly impossible to react. Hence the one-death-per-four-minutes in India last year!

“If this illusion of attention is so pervasive, how has our species survived to write about it? Why weren’t our would-be ancestors all eaten by unnoticed predators?” The authors explain away wittily…”Our neurological circuits for vision and attention are built for pedestrian speeds, not for driving speeds.”

Then, what is the way out. Why not widen our attention 360 degrees? Funnily again, the authors point out that you can not ask a human to try flying by flapping his arms vigorously! Man can’t fly because of his hardware design. Likewise, our attention is limited due to the structure of the mind which cannot permit us to consciously perceive everything around us.

The medicine for our illusion of ills is to become self-aware. Sounds spiritual? Why isn’t God visible? Because we don’t expect Him to be ‘there’ wherever we see. We look but we don’t see. We hear but don’t listen.

Next comes the ‘Illusion of Memory’ which is nothing but what we think we remember and what we remember. The book gives you short fun tests in this chapter to show how we continuously upgrade our long-term memory by ‘adding regularly’ to what we already remember, thus distorting the original record. Revealing and enjoyable exploration indeed. Wanna try? Recall what you were doing the moment you came to know abut 9/11 or 26/11? If you check back, it is NOT exactly what you were doing but with added masala of your later acquired knowledge on these emotional incidents. In fact, there is NOTHING like a xerox copy of original memory in our heads. It’s all getting ‘upgraded’ continuously!

The authors’ give you case studies and classical ‘continuity errors’ in movies to show how fallible our human memory is. Calling it “Change Blindness”, which “occurs when we fail to compare what’s there NOW with what was there BEFORE.” Oh, is this why we don’t notice the continuous change occurring in society, viz., techno or business disruptions, unless of course it hits us hard on our face or someone points to it?

Then come our illusion of ‘confidence’ and illusion of our own ‘knowledge’, showing our self-deception that “we understand and can explain things that we really know very little about. In fact, our dangerous tendency to overestimate the extent and depth of our knowledge” can be punctured by asking persistent ‘how’ & ‘why’ questions. Try it. It’s shocking to know how much we don’t know about ANYTHING! Come to think of it, we believe we know but scratch the surface, we know only tit-bits of information but not the whole of any subject, concept, object, product or process. A humbling feeling of course!

The authors conclude this book with a warning: “Be wary of your intuitions, especially intuitions about how your own mind works…..intuition is poorly adapted to solving problems in the modern world. Think twice before you decide to trust intuition over rational analysis, especially in important matters, and watch out for people who tell you intuition can be a panacea for decision-making ills.”

Read this book and enjoy the fun of knowing things that you think you know, but know not!

Monday, 7 October 2019

Book Review: The Cosmic Code by Heinz R. Pagels

Quantum Physics as the Language of Nature

What else could be the best form of worship on the Saraswathi Pooja Day? Reading! That too a book on probing science subjects such as, Quantum Mechanics, Quantum Physics, Quantum Weirdness, Quantum tunneling effects, etc., in an effort to understand the Universe and the Language of Nature.

Reading Science actually makes us humble. Because, we come to know that we know exactly Nothing! Particularly subjects like Quantum Physics, String Theory, etc. breaking up atoms and molecules to find the stuff of which ALL materials are made. But here is a book that proves that the universe came out of ‘Nothing’. Baffled?

Going into the fact of the ‘matter’ (pun intended), Heinz Pagels cracks ‘The Cosmic Code’ in this book of same title, giving a lucid story of the cosmos. Take this voyage of a life time!

Safe landing back on the Blue Planet guaranteed…Read on.

Why did I decide on 'The Cosmic Code' by Heinz R Pagels? It promised to answer these questions: “What is the origin of the earth and sun, and what is their end? As we are driven onward and outward in our search for origins and ends, we can ask that question of the stars, the galaxy, and the universe: “Who ordered that? Where did it come from? How will it end?”. It also curiously pointed to the horizon where Science and Spirituality meet. And it turned out to be a simplified biography of the universe!

From Copernicus to Galileo, from Newton to Einstein and finally to Quantum Physics, the human perspective of matter and world has widened phenomenally. From Molecules to Atoms and to Nuclei, Hadrons to finally Quark, human endeavors to reach out to the bottom of matter is an ever-unfolding adventurous journey into the sub-atomic world.

Ever heard of the pions, mesons, kayons and baryons? They are in fact unstable hadrons with charges forming families of mathematical symmetry, patterns of eight-fold way (of Buddha!) comprising of members viz., singlets, octets, decuplets. Check this out: “The eight-fold way was a big step towards answering the riddle of the hadrons.  Protons and Neutrons, the first Hadrons to be found in the Nucleus, now had the company of other six new particles, lambda, sigma, xi, and Omega minus”.

Head spinning? In fact, like in school/college studies, I had to skip some chapters to survive! A deluge of formulae and diagrams make it sometimes a scary stuff. However, the fact of the ‘matter’ is, Pagels makes these pages minimal and keeps telling the story of the universe hand-holding the reader in a gentle manner.

Also glitters once a while like a star is his wit. For instance, the author credits Nature as the original ‘mass manufacturer’ eons before the 19th century, in that IT has designed the entire Universe with ONLY three fundamental building blocks: quarks, leptons, and gluons. The products include: You and Me!

Another fact Quantum Physics establishes is that “Reality is an observer-dependent, observer-determined” phenomena. In the author’s own words,” The inventors of the quantum theory found yet another contrast with the Newtonian world view – the observer-created reality. They found that the quantum theory requires that what as observer decides to measure influences the measurement. What is actually going on in the quantum world depends on how we decide to observe it. The world just isn’t “there” independent of our observing it; what is “there” depends in part on what we choose to see – reality is partially created by the observer”. Now you see me, now you see me not!
But what came out of this voyage is the re-construction of how Big Bang could have happened and from ‘there’ how have we arrived here after billions of years, as human life. A rewarding journey indeed!

Interestingly inside the atom is the most conspicuous and mobile of the elementary quanta - the electron. When we go chasing the hyperactive electron encircling the nucleus, we find series of particles viz., protons, neutrino, the muon and the tauon. The computer, microprocessor, telecommunication and mass media which are transforming our civilization are because of these electrons. But there is a sub-atomic world below mocking all your Boolean logic, which is only an 'ALL or Nothing' trap.
The author ends the cosmos odyssey like this: “The entire universe is a re-expression of sheer nothingness. How can the universe be equivalent to nothing? Look at all those stars and galaxies! But if we examine this possibility carefully, we learn that the universe, even in its present form, could be equivalent to nothing. A remarkable feature of the present-day universe is that if you add up all the energy in the universe it almost adds up to zero”.
Sounds spiritual? An incredibly humbling experience this… 

Saturday, 7 September 2019

Book Review: Counter Mentor Leadership by Kelly Riggs & Robby Riggs

How to Unlock the Potential of the 4-Generation Workplace?

A decade back, I read husband & wife authors. Allan Pease & Barbara Pease. A fun riot and gender-sensitizer, “Why Men Don’t Listen & Women Can’t Read Maps!” Later, I also read a Mother-Son duo (Myers & Briggs of “Gifts Differing”) dealing with Typology. A serious one.

And now comes a different set, a Father-Son-pair. Kelly the POP belonging to old generation and Robby the KID of current generation, joining hands together to take us through a seriously funny journey of leadership development, showing practical ways of mentoring and leading your team.

Strongly recommended trendy reading for people handling the ‘hot potato’ of chaotic, four-generation workplace. The pleasure is also that they are candid, say-it-straight and hard-hitting type. No wishy-washy-mushy stuff this.

Chancing upon this treasure from the regular bookshop, I also gave it away to Leaders of our recent ‘Mentoring Forum”. Then, it was only my duty to gulp it first before prescribing the bitter-sweet-medicine. And it turned out to be an authentic treatment indeed. Miles Austin, President and Founder of remarks,” Not only do both authors have deep experience and credentials in this area, but they are also father and son. That creates a raw, honest, back-and-forth set of perspectives that is unique in a business book”.

The authors themselves guarantee upfront: “One thing you need to know is this book is NOT hypothetical or academic. It is a result of well over twenty-five years of experiences and observations in organization with multigenerational conflict: a fifty-something entrepreneur and former executive (Baby Boomer) and a thirty-something MBA, consultant turned entrepreneur (Millennial) who still thinks he’s twenty-nine. We represent two totally different perspectives…

This is not another #boringleadershipbook. Which is to say, this book isn’t a dissertation about some new management theory supported by a regression analysis of relevant research data. Ugh. We stay from TLAs (three-letter acronyms) and promise you’ll laugh and learn at the same time (or curse and throw things at the wall, which we will take as a good sign)”.

Also, the nice thing about this book is that it is highly readable. For instance, there are one ONLY 31 short chapters, so you can decide to do one per day, before hitting the bed at night. By month-end you are through. Every chapter is fun as well as learning. Each chapter also gives ‘Key Points to Remember’. So, what you read with enjoyment also gets crystalized in your mind. Thirdly, in many chapter-endings you get a video link where the fun pair, freely chat and pull each other’s legs. Conflict with Care! If you are a video-buff, you will enjoy it.

When two people write a book together, you won’t know who’s speaking NOW. But the POP & KID authors intelligently handle this dilemma of the reader, by showing a picture of the Classy, stylish “hat” for Kelly the BOSS generation and the fashion-forward, eco-friendly, socially conscious “baseball cap” for the KID Robby. And you enjoy the friendly fight which serves as an inviting interlude of humour.

I also benefited for the first time to understand a smart and clear definition of “leadership”. Not just in words, but dealing extensively with ALL aspects of how to develop it in an organization. According to them, simply put, “Leadership is the art and science of getting things done through other people”. Sounds too simple, is it?

To make it clear, in their own words, “Once you commit to Counter Mentor Leadership, you don’t get out of bed thinking about all the things you need to get done today. You get out of bed thinking about what you need to do to enable your people to get things done today. Your first thought is people (who produce results), not results (that you direct your people to produce)”.

Like me, if you have been wondering as to what is this ‘Counter’ start in the title, it is simply the acronym of seven actions you will take to get your people-relationship working wonders: Communicate-Own-Understand-Negotiate-Teach-Execute-Review (hence, COUNTER). Also-in-store in this book, is the time-tested POPs “CMM-Counter Mentor 1-on-1 Meeting” format and how to make it effective, every time you deal with your team mates.

If you are a “We’ve always done it that way!” old-generational BOSS leader, you are not going to like it. There is a lot of punch on the face-serious introspection demanding change. And the authors also warn: “Your brain is wired to reject change, and your current hardwired habits make you feel good. Yes, changing your leadership habits will be freaking tough.”

It doesn’t mean that the KIDS are treated with kid gloves. The POP author nudges them throughout the book to ‘grow up’!

This book is hot! Because it deals with the happening-now. The multi-generational conflict-ridden corporate landscape today and how to successfully deal with it through Mentoring & Reverse-Mentoring. Sounds familiar?

And curiously it comes from a Dad & Son author-consultant-duo, Kelly & Robby Riggs, who belong to two different genre, Baby Boomer & Millennial. “Counter Mentor Leadership” is an absolutely readable and fun-filled book.

Must read for Millennials as well as Gen.X BOSSes!

Sunday, 25 August 2019

Feature Article: Disruption = Innovation!

The dictionary definition of ‘disruption’ – disturbance or problems which interrupt an event, activity, or process – has negative connotations. But in a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Chaotic and Ambiguous) world, disruption is tantamount to innovation. There are four disruptions which are currently sweeping our society, pulling the rug from under our feet. Let me take you on a roller-coaster ride from the recent past, through the current scenario, and into the foreseeable future. Get ready and fasten your seat belts!

Product Disruption:

The mobile phone in your hand is your car! Any doubt? With a press of a few buttons, an Ola or an Uber will arrive at your location to take you wherever you want to go, at a low price and without any need for paper money. Pay online and get a receipt by mail. Your phone is also your cook. Right? The delivery boys from Swiggy or Zomato will bring you the food to suit your palate – anytime, anywhere. Your phone is your ATM too. It has all the Wallet apps viz. PhonePe, Paytm, etc. to pay digitally. Your phone is also your bank, helping you transfer funds instantaneously. Your phone also serves the functions of the camera, tape recorder, alarm clock, calendar, video recorder, album, planner, diary, library, scanner, map, scale, and stop watch. A dozen other gadgets have been swallowed by this little wonder - the mobile phone. Soon, it is going to be your doctor and your lawyer. Think of IBM Watson & Tricoder-X App serving as your consultants!

But what is not so obvious is how much disruption the arrival of the mobile phone has caused. In one stroke, even as over 100 crore Indians embraced this technology in a matter of five years, the millions of people sitting in wooden boxes painted in black letters on a yellow background - “STD ISD PCO” - met with the challenge to change. The lessons is this – ONLY those who learn, change and upskill themselves to new technology retain their business by selling accompaniments viz., Bluetooth, mobile covers, screen guards, offering topping up and repair services, etc.

Think of the kind of people who are using mobile phones today. Are they only the educated and the sophisticated? Every Tom, Dick and Harry Potter has one, even two perhaps. The driver, the plumber, the electrician, the fisherwoman, the maid, the grandmother (who had not even touched the good old rotary phones in their lifetime) – who doesn’t have one? Rag-pickers and Sadhus too! The pertinent question is – Who taught them how to handle this intelligent piece of equipment? No organized classrooms run by phone companies, are there? This only means that all learning happens in the real world when the learner, irrespective of his educational, societal or financial background, is willing to learn.

Coming back to product disruption – a smart-cheap-fast-light product will overtake the dull-old-costly-heavy product. Again, all of us smart citizens of the BRAVE NEW WORLD, will quickly grab the new-tech-piece and drop the old, like the proverbial hot-potato. Don’t believe it? If I snatch your smart phone and in exchange give you a dozen button phones or two dozen land-line-phones, will you take the offer?

For those who are not yet convinced, here’s another smart product – the debit/credit/ATM card sitting in your wallet. Over a decade back, banks installed ATMs in strategic places and handed out smart plastic cards and made you and me their esteemed customers. We put our money (with which they make their money) and we turn into their clerks! Where are the lakhs of bank tellers and branches that would have otherwise come up? We are doing the transactions ourselves! And where were the classrooms to train the customers to learn ‘how to talk to ATM machines to draw money”. Each of us, irrespective of our backgrounds, learnt it in ‘our own ways’ because OUR money was inside those machines!

Process Disruption:

We have seen recently how entire industries can be disrupted by changing the way business is done. One need not look further than the car service aggregators Ola and Uber. By themselves, they do not own any cars. Nor do have they employed drivers. Thus, no hardware and human resource investments, and no maintenance, repairs, labor laws, HR, motivation, promotion, retention, dismissal, discipline, strike, retrenchment, and retirement and pension issues. The sum and substance of all of this is - Have an idea to thrill customers and meet their needs and create a success story. But the consequence, in this case, is traditional taxi operators running for cover, to learn, change and catch up with the new ones for their survival.


Governments also disrupt the market by implementing new ideas such as GST, demonetization, mega-mergers, entry tax barriers, etc. In fact, the governments of today use more networking and big data technologies to deliver various services to its citizens than ever before. This brings us to the mega disruptor, i.e., technological advancements.

Technological Disruption:

Let us examine these sale offers – I will give you a car that guzzles hundred rupees’ worth of fuel and gives you 22 rupees’ worth of driving result. I will, alternatively, give you an automobile, which will, for the same input give you 92 rupees’ worth of driving distance. Which car will you buy? The answer is simple. It is the latter, the Electric Vehicle (EV).

As a customer, you want faster-smarter-cheaper technology. Come to think of it, 78 percent of the fossil fuel goes up as emissions to pollute the atmosphere, puncture the ozone layer, and release carcinogens. Hence, big city administrations have started setting deadlines for curbing the use of fossil fuel vehicles and are insisting on building charging stations every few kilometers for the alternatives, the EVs.

I will try and sell you yet another car built with 2000 parts needing a visit to the garage for change/repair of oil/components and regular maintenance. Alternatively, I will try and sell you a car built with 12 to 18 moving parts, one that needs to get serviced at night when you are asleep without even the need for moving it from your portico. The writing is on the wall. EV is the future of transportation. With the advent of autonomous vehicles (driverless cars), there is yet another enormous challenge to re-skill and shift the millions of driving hands, manufacturers of automobile parts, their distributors, store keepers, garage-owners, mechanics, packers, movers, and the scrap-buyers.

Coming back to my sales pitch – I will give you a car which guzzles up fuel if you are stuck in a traffic jam with the mileage plummeting with age. As an owner, you fret and fume inside as the petrol fumes outside. On the other hand, I will sell you a vehicle, which employs a charging-mechanism while you brake for the traffic light, only adding to your mileage.

Finally, I will offer you a car which requires frequent re-fueling and one that can get charged from a distance, for 30 to 40 km. from the Original Equipment Manufacturer’s place, using wireless software upgrade. Am I kidding? No. It has already happened with Tesla’s Model S 60 EV during the Florida flooding.

The quote for renewable fuels such as solar and wind in India are nosediving to a meagre Rs. 2.42 per unit. “At this rate, even Crude at $10 barrel cannot compete”, says Tony Seba, an energy expert. Another data point is worth noting – “All human activities and industries, put together, consume about 500 exajoules annually, equivalent to the amount of energy earth receives from the sun in just ninety minutes. And that’s only solar energy”, informs Yual Noah Harari in his book “Sapiens”. This is a great future possibility for mankind to explore.

The way technology is disrupting our lives, through Artificial Intelligence, self-learning machines, etc., studies are warning that 50 percent of the traditional mundane jobs will cease to exist by the next decade. This means that we need to change the way we work. For those who don’t believe, where are the typists, stenographers, telephone operators, and librarians today? With technology changing so rapidly, even what we teach our children in schools will become obsolete in 2030, points out Harari in his sequel “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow”.

Machines are touted to take over many of man’s labor soon in manufacturing. Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT) is promising self-correcting, deep-learning technologies. But don’t you worry. The same was told when computers arrived a few decades back. We have seen through it all. But this is NOT to suggest that we can continue to remain complacent. The learning for the new generation employee is to LEARN DAILY, CHANGE EVERY DAY, CHALLENGE BELIEFS OFTEN AND UPSKILL TO SUCCEED.

Yes, folks, wake up and smell the coffee!

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Book Review : Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Mechanics of the Mind

Dan Ariely proved how human beings are ‘Predictably Irrational’ in his title of the same name, thus pointing to the hidden forces that shape our decisions. Malcolm Gladwell in his second book “Blink” showed us how we humans “jump to conclusions”, underlining the Power of Thinking without Thinking.

Here in this International Bestseller, “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, Daniel Kahneman, Winner of the Nobel Prize, unscrews the nuts and bolts of our mind and the intricate process of human thinking using copious examples and exercises.

The size of book was threatening. The small print was not inviting. But how long you can postpone reading a book, when:

1.      It was lovingly gifted by your son & friend
2.      Every other author is referring to it in his work
3.      It is an international bestseller, and finally,
4.      The author is the Winner of the Nobel Prize.

Hesitantly, I took the ‘bitter pill’. Lo and behold, it turned out to be a Bible on the “Mechanics of the Human Mind!”. Starting off with examples and simple exercises, Daniel draws the reader straight into the stupidities of the mind, which was developed by Nature for millions of years, based on ‘survival of the fittest’ principle.

Chapter after every chapter, the author deals with the ‘Lazy Controller’ and ‘Associative Machine’, which ‘Jumps to Conclusions’ proving ‘How Judgements Happen’. Exposing the ‘Illusion of Understanding’ and the ‘Illusion of Validity’, Daniel deciphers the so-called ‘Intuition’ of the mind, thereby unravelling every step we take to ‘conclude’ and finally arrives at the age-old Indian wisdom of “What You See Is All There Is (WYSIATI)”. Sounds familiar? Everything is Maya!

Pointing out to the System 1 of the mind which quickly judges and provides instantaneous clues to survive (Thinking Fast) and System 2 which evaluates dispassionately (Thinking Slow), the author says, “The mind that makes up narratives about the past is a sense-making organ. When an unpredicted event occurs, we immediately adjust our view of the world to accommodate the surprise. Imagine yourself before a football game between two teams that have the same record of wins and losses. Now the game is over, and one team trashed the other. In your revised model of the world, the winning team is much stronger than the loser, and your view of the past as well as of the future has been altered by the new perception.”

The book becomes heavy as you navigate beyond 100 pages, bringing in more and more exercises and studies to prove false whatever we feel damn sure about. After all, the thinker author is a Nobel Prize Winner! But he compassionately provides a list of understanding at the end of every chapter to make it easy to digest his revelations.

Want to know about Cognitive Ease? Associative Coherence? Hindsight Bias? Impression of Familiarity? Anchoring Effect? Planning Fallacy? If you are freaking out listening to these terms, hear out what Steven D Levitt, co-author of ‘Freakonomics’ says about Daniel Kahneman: “There may be no other person on the planet who better understands how and why we make the choices we make”. And the author of book “Nudge”, Richard Thaler nudges you to ‘Buy it (this book) fast and Read it slowly. It will change the way you think!”.

Reading this book brings in clarity between the Remembering Self and Experiencing Self. In the end it will help one ‘Know Thyself!’ and make us ‘reflect’ BEFORE we jump to decisions.

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Book Review - Barking Up the Wrong Tree by Eric Barker

The surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong

The term ‘success’ is defined differently by different people. Whatever ‘others’ may consider what is being successful, when will YOU conclude that you have attained success in YOUR life?

This crazy title, ‘Barking Up the Wrong Tree’ by Eric Barker, packs wisdom from research and various well-known authors, and offers weird examples of famous people and incidents to nail the ‘success secret’ conclusively. That ‘alingnment’ leads to fulfilled living in career and family life.

Have an open mind while reading as the author funnily trips you too often by giving diametrically opposite points of view in each chapter, with solid quotes and anecdotes.

Interesting review of the ‘delightfully puckish but evidence-backed’ book (as per Adam Grant), follows...

Normally books on ‘Success Secrets’ used to be prescriptive or written in an advisory tone. This is NOT. Rather, Barker makes the right noises cautioning us not fall in one societal trap or another. And gently reveals in this humorous book “Barking Up the Wrong Tree”, that there is never ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answer for ANYTHING and the truth lies somewhere in between. This he does by bringing in unique and extreme, weird and funny examples from every walk of life and also quoting the wisdom of well-known authors and researchers, viz., Sam Harris, Dan Ariely, Malcolm Gladwell, etc. This way you get to read a lot of intelligent stuff, all rolled into one book and hence makes an interesting reading.

What is amusing in this fun ride is that once you are totally convinced of yourself on one line of thought, the author suddenly flips it with exactly opposite logic, with strong examples and anecdotes and you are awestruck by the whack on your head. He proves convincingly that ‘whatever we tell ourselves becomes our truth’. And he quotes Vonnegut’s moral: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be”.

Drawing his argument from the famous Don Quixote, the author says: ”Our brains are wired to try to make sense of things. Meaning is part of our operating system. We need to think the world makes sense and that we have control. The brain doesn’t like randomness. So what is meaning? Meaning, for the human mind, comes in the form of stories we tell ourselves about the world. ….Not only do we naturally see the world this way, but frankly we can’t not tell stories. If I asked you how your day was or how you met your spouse, what would you tell me? A story. What’s your resume? A story. You even tell stories when you sleep: dreams. And research shows you have about two thousand daydreams every day, tell yourself little stories about this or that.”

Another mental trap the author explodes is the society’s ‘falling for’ extroverts rather than celebrating introverts, particularly because the Extros make a hell a lot of noise and catchy advertisement even as the Intros remain secluded contributing ‘silently’. Barker says we are barking up the wrong tree, the quirky title of this book. But he equally exposes the upside and downside of both extremes and leaves us with a clear mind, until of course we become hazy in perspective and again jump to even faster conclusions!

One more example of dichotomy the author deals with is: Which is more dangerous, incompetence or arrogance? Barker quotes: “We all spend a lot of time complaining about incompetence, but as Malcolm Gladwell pointed out in a talk he gave at High Point University, overconfidence is the far bigger problem. Why? Incompetence is a problem that inexperienced people have, and all things being equal, we don’t entrust inexperienced people with all that much power or authority. Overconfidence is usually the mistake of experts, and we do give them a lot of power and authority. Plain and simple, incompetence is frustrating, but the people guilty of it usually can’t screw things up that bad. The people guilty of overconfidence can do much more damage.

Other predicaments he deals with eloquently are Confidence Vs Delusion, What You Know Vs Who You Know, and finally ends the book addressing the ALL INTERESTING quandary: Work, Work, Work or Work-Life-Balance? Courtesy examples: Spider-Man, Buddhist Monks, Albert Einstein, Professional Wrestlers and Genghis Khan.

How to end these perennial dilemmas in life? Barker points to this suggestion: “Barry Schwartz says we have to become “choosers” instead of “pickers”. A picker selects from the options available, leading us into false dichotomies created by the options we see in front of us. But a chooser is thoughtful enough to conclude that perhaps none of the available alternatives are satisfactory, and that if he or she wants the right alternative, he or she may have to create it.”

Also addressing the subtitle of the book, on definition of success, Eric concludes like this: “What is the most important thing to remember when it comes to success? One word: alignment. Success is not the result of any single quality; it’s about alignment between who you are and where you choose to be. The right skill in the right role. A good person surrounded by other good people. A story that connects you with the world in a way that keeps you going. A network that helps you, and a job that leverages your natural introversion or extroversion. A level of confidence that keeps you going while learning and forgiving yourself for the inevitable failures. A balance between the big four that creates a well-rounded life with no regrets.”

In this book, you get a fun-filled brain-churning experience. Akin to the good-old Edward de Bono’s book on lateral thinking: “Beyond Yes and No”, ‘Po’. What are you waiting for? Pick up this book, Get Set & Po!