Fix your flow, not the stock

I have been taking some interest in sports recently. This got triggered by the significant capital overlay for new shoes and rackets to support my sons’ style over substance pursuit of tennis coaching. I am indulging my children nevertheless, having seen the wisom levels of those who play sports in their childhood being far greater than the ones who did not. Like so facets of life I am late starter.
So I jumped up to notice when Boris Becker filed for bankruptcy. How could some one with significant wealth, talent and fame go bankrupt?

I turned to a concept from systems thinking – stock and flow – to make sense of this.

Stock is anything that is accumulated (water level, bank balance, inventory, good will) and flow either increments or decrements (monthly salary, expenses, sales). Any system can be understood as an interplay of stocks, flows and the feedback loops among those.

bathtub-stock-flow-diagram500px-Principle_feedback_loops.svg

Most people gravitate towards measuring the stock levels (no wonder most startups over index on valuation). It is more tangible and easier to compare. It often dulls us to ignore the critical role played by flow (or even more so feedback loops and delays).

If I were to ask you how fill a water tub, you are more likely to say the tap should be turned up and not think about stopping the leakage. Even if flow is understood, most of us are biased towards overestimating impact of incoming flows and underestimating outgoing flows.

No one wonder anyone will understand their salaries much more precisely than expenses. There is a lot of truth in the age old wisdom of  ‘it’s not how much u earn, but how much u save is what matters’.

Unless one understands and actively manages the flows, to in turn affect the stock levels, you are just clutching at an effect than the cause of a stock level.

Another trap related to flows is role of delay. Most of us tend to be very poor in estimating the time it takes replenish stock levels by not understanding the flow levels and the time to naturally modify them.

If your savings are off or health levels are down – do you understand that while temporary measures change the stock levels, sustainable solutions need to take into account how the flow levels are to be permanently improved.

So getting back to the sad story about Boris Becker. He didn’t become a world champion in a day nor did he go bankrupt.

The unbearable joy of being a parent

Watched Tare Zameen Par with my kids yesterday. While we had the CD at home for quite a while, we avoided watching this movie with kids thinking it would make them very sad. Even yesterday, we skipped the parts where Ishaan becomes suicidal. They thoroughly enjoyed the rest. More than we expected.

My son Surya asked me if this was a period movie. Meaning do parents and teachers do this to their kids even these days? I guess we should feel good neither the school nor how we are bringing up our kids resembles Ishaan’s life.

Being a parent is very hard. The short term feedback cycles are misleading and the real feedback cycles that matter are too long. Nothing you learned in life prepares you to be a parent. At best you have the data point of your parents or grand parents. Then internet dispenses too much advice on parenting. Basically you are flying blind.

It can only be described as an ‘unbearable joy‘.

Here are things I found most interesting

Be a gardener and not a carpenter – I read an article recently (A manifesto against parenting) that put it very nicely that ‘parenting’ is not something you do, but a state you need to be in. One should not be a ‘carpenter’ – looking to create something or shaping your kid – but be be a ‘gardener’ who can only create the environment for the flowers to boom – but with little control.

Your Children are not your children: For me nothing comes close to the thoughts in Khalil Gibran’s poem. He talks about not how your children are not your property, even if “they are with you“. You need to love them but not control their minds or thoughts. Like the misinterpretation of the quote ‘Child is father of the man‘, he talks of  a counter intuitive goal that we need to strive for – to be like our children and not make them in our image (or of our dreams). The most profound thought is in the last stanza, where he likens the child to an arrow and the parent to the bow. How beautifully he says “For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable“. This is what it is to be a parent. To be a stable bow for your children to launch.

On Children by Kahlil Gibran

    Your children are not your children.
    They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
    They come through you but not from you,
    And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

    You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
    For they have their own thoughts.
    You may house their bodies but not their souls,
    For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
    which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
    You may strive to be like them,
    but seek not to make them like you.
    For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

    You are the bows from which your children
    as living arrows are sent forth.
    The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
    and He bends you with His might
    that His arrows may go swift and far.
    Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
    For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
    so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Khalil Gibran …

kahlil-gibranReference:

  1. Poetry by Khalil Gibran

Ashtanga yoga and organization change 

Like most of you, I have over the years attempted multiple courses in Yoga and meditation – and never internalized or sustained them. Over the last 1 year I have immersed myself into the world of Ashtanga Yoga, surprising myself with the progress and sustainability.

I think there are some interesting lessons in the school of Ashtanga Yoga for organizations to create sustainable change.

Ashtanga Yoga is a style of Yoga codified by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and taught by 100s of his students around the world.

The instruction mechanisms have a few unique characteristics:

  1. DESIGN and a common LANGUAGE: The 6 levels / series are codified and followed every where in the world by anyone who teaches today
  2. ESTABLISH the BASE: The student progresses only when the asanas / postures are mastered at every level. Only after the teacher believes you have mastered the current level, does he teach you the next asana
  3. ALLOW for INDIVIDUAL LEARNING CURVES: Everyone’s body and mind is different. So the class is designed as a self practice session, where you progress at the pace you can. The teacher observes you to occasionally correct, guide and move u forward. This makes learning extremely personalized and internalized
  4. DEVELOP the SELF PRACTICE MUSCLE: We have all seen how not having the teacher around significantly erodes the nature of our practice. Ashtanga Yoga is based on self practice and not explicitly linked to the presence of the teacher
  5. LAYERED: On the surface there is a lot of physical bending and sweating. Below the surface there is a mental and spiritual transformation

I see very strong parallels to these ideas in implementing any new initiative or any organization wide change.

What do you think?

Various asanas in a sequence and organized as levels, as shown below

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Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, creator of Ashtanga Yoga

picture-211

My teacher Gururaja Anemajal who has devoted his life to learning and teaching yoga. His Ashtanga Yoga Kendra is in HSR Layout, Bangalore

gururaja

References:

  1. Ashtanga Yoga levels
  2. Sri K. Pattabhi Jois
  3. Where I learn – Ashtanga Yoga Kendra in HSR Layout 

Head winds / tail winds asymmetry

Do this exercise before you read rest of the post.

Round 1: List in 3 minutes all the head winds and tail winds in ur life.

Round 2: Them double the number of tail winds in 2 minutes.

Round 3: Double them in 2 minutes more.

Count the # of  head winds and tail winds after each round.

Typically the # of head winds and # of tail winds are very similar or the former is more at the end of round 1.

At the end of three rounds, most people were surprised to remind themselves the # of tail winds in their lives. And how they underestimate them.

Why is it that people easily recognize head winds in their lives more than tail winds? When they do people mostly recognize ‘other people’ than ‘systems / environments / intangibles’  in tail winds. And vice versa in head winds.

Why this asymmetry?

Listen to this NPR talk on Why is my life so hard? or read the transcript

What do you think about this concept?

What would you do with this asymmetry?

References:

  1. Talk on Head winds / tail winds asymmetry by Dr. Thomas Gilovich
  2. NPR talk – Why is my life so hard?
  3. Life’s headwinds and tail winds

Ten traps for entrepreneurs …

Here are some traps I saw other entrepreneurs fall into (Of course, some of these I fell into myself multiple times !).

Watch out when you hear these lines.

# 10. “Let’s add Social Networking features and use AJAX. It’s the hottest trend around. Will help with valuations”

# 9. “He has 30 years experience in the Industry and can open doors for you with Whos-Who. Rest is easy for you. He wants to be on a retainer and not on sales commission”

# 8. “When Infosys and Wipro started there was no competition. They had all the time to grow. Now time is money. It’s a VC funded world.”

#7. “Small companies cannot sell. We need to be much larger to be taken seriously”

#6. “Let’s not to worry about profitability. Let us grab market share and scale”

#5. “They are old school, brick&mortar … won’t get it right on the web”

#4. “I am unable to sell because there is no marketing investment here. We need customers who call us, not other way around”

#3. “Just build the traffic, you can sell it Google or Microsoft or Facebook”

#2. “Just getting 0.5% of people in India as our customers … just 0.5% … means we will blow our revenue plan out of the water”

#1. A VC saying “I want you to raise more money sufficient for the next round as well now … so you can focus on building the business and not waste any time fund raising”

What do you think … did you hear these any time before? What else would you add to your top 10 list?

Personalisation in Android

I keep thinking about why Android is Free.

The Apple vs. Google vs. Microsoft battle for the device OS is fascinating to watch. I am sure there are strengths each bring to the table. In the case of Google personalisation is probably one of those.

It seems with a mobile device there is a lot more personal information being share with Google – way more than thru the desktop. Google accounts seem to “network enable” an Android phones and link every search, every email and every app download with location information and other personal preferences.

Google is building a personal relationship with you … to make information available just the way you like it. For example Google Now is trying to proactively suggest restaurant reviews and directions based on the last search. Given there are many reasons to interact with Google – Search, Gmail, YouTube, Maps, Picassa (alas not Google+ yet) … there are more ways to figure out what you want.

Isn’t personalisation an exit barrier for holding onto Android users? Isn’t this personalisation at a scale never attempted before?

Power of boring execution

How did Obama win so easily in what was predicted to be a close election? Some fascinating lessons for any business

#1. Overnight success built over 8 years

Obama’s victory is a lot to do with the power of execution than with vision and great speeches like last time. Democrats out organised and out reached their supporters. In a way their over night success was 8 years in the making. The databases, the demographic analytics and on the field volunteers.

#2. Customer segmentation and targetting

If the strategy was to focus on the poor / middle class voters and certain segments of likely voters based on race – everything about the first term presidency now looks like targeting that segment. In the end no one can be all things to all people (not with standing the 47% remarks)

#3. Pace yourself

There are good days and bad days. But it’s a fascinating lesson in pacing yourself (keep in mind Obama had a day job all thru the campaign)

#4. Strike good partnerships

Who can question the credibility and connect Bill Clinton brought to the campaign?

No big speeches or tag lines this time. Boring boring. The power of boring execution is here to see !!