Friday, September 8, 2017

Originals by Adam Grant

Adam Grant is one of the popular writers of our time. In this book, he focuses on Originals who are some kind of non-conformists (perhaps from the stand point of widely accepted world views) that are changing the world.

Incredibly, he dedicates one full chapter in this book to Procrastination. He claims that this commonly hated vice is useful when it comes to the question of creativity albeit it is a sworn enemy of productivity. Actually, I did follow the prescription by delaying this post for more than a quarter :-).

He is a master in introducing terms which are relatively unused in interesting ways, for example,Vujade (opposite of Dejavu) which means look at the familiar situation in a new light and so on.

The points he adduces are also equally compelling. Couple of examples.

1.  When parents encourage their children to develop strong values, they effectively limit their influence:  When Winstead went public with her rebellion political views, her father quipped: "I messed it up. I raised you to have an opinion and I forgot to tell you that, it was supposed to be mine!".

2. "Appeal to the Character rather than behavior”. For example, instead of saying "Please don't cheat" say, “Please don't be a cheater". When the emphasis shifts from behavior to character, people evaluate their choices differently. Instead of asking if the behavior will achieve the results they want, they take the action because that is the right thing to do. It is like if somebody is drowning, you don't ask which god but tend to just jump and save.

He cites, more diversified the exposure, greater the chance of better idea(s) selection in future. Gives examples of Edison, Galileo kind of luminaries - chronologically , they are far too much in the rear view mirror to be germane for us, yet I will take the examples with more than a pinch of salt. I personally think we are in "deep dive" era where occasionally lateral exposures would come handy and perhaps make a good story. 

Interestingly, he gives examples of how artistic hobby and correlates to of winning  Nobel Prize. Music (2x), Drawing, Painting (7x), Modelling, Mechanics (12x), Performing arts, Magic (22x). For example, someone who is practicing magic is 22 times more likely to win the Nobel assuming he/she also focused on the main job!

Sure enough, no management book can escape one matrix (usually 2x2). Here, he discusses four options (1) Exit (2) Voice (3) Neglect (4) Persistence based on change/maintain the situation (Vector-1) and Beneficial/Detrimental to the organization (Vector-2). The discussions thereof are very good.

In the long run, we always regret the errors of omission rather than commission. If we were to run our lives again, he strongly feels we would censor less. I tend to agree with him on opportunities but not sure about people interactions or let us say spirituality - anyway, we get the message.

This book with all the wonderful snippets, gives us a good approximation of the ORIGINALS and how they are only subtly different from the rest - not vastly different. It is a warm and comfy feeling.

Scot Adams famously said, "Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes - Art is knowing which ones to keep". So, with many examples, you need to artistically navigate to decide which ones to keep.

Thanks for reading this far.


1. TED Talks by Adam Grant.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Throwing rocks at the GOOGLE bus by Douglas Rushkoff

When you read a book, sometimes you get the feeling of dejavu – a feeling that we have already seen or gone through it before. But how about reading a book that gives a feeling that is orthogonal to it – I mean vujade? That is, we have never seen this familiar thing in that light feeling.

This is my first book by Doug albeit he seems to be a prolific writer and has been writing for quite some time and I am impressed. 

Doug is a worried man like many of us about the direction in which the world is moving. He discusses the unequal distribution of wealth, and technologies like robots, AI, and algorithms moving rapidly to replace millions of jobs without much societal deliberation about the resulting consequences. He presents his thoughts on how they can be optimized to help the society as a whole instead of blindly running with the changes to wherever they take us. He might not give solutions for everything, but he does point out many potential pitfalls.

Key ideas that got my attention (by no means exhaustive).

1.  Concentration of wealth is not self-correcting.
2.  One has design for the velocity of business instead of focusing on growth - to quote him, Money is a verb not a noun. Don’t hoard keep it circulation.
3.   Growth cannot be an end by itself. He gives “twitter” as an example.
4.    Technology does take away jobs and the next generation jobs are less than previous one in terms of number and usually involves less skill and prone to commoditization.
5.    Most of us are in “extractive” business rather than generative and circulatory business which alone is sustainable over long run. This may sound forbiddingly abstract but will be clear when you read the book.
6.    Alternatives to charted business corporations models like Benefit corporations, Flexible purpose corporations are well explained with examples.
7.    Corporations did not emerge – they were invented and hence there is a scope for re-inventing them in order to restore the power of middle class. His focus is on distributed prosperity.
8.    His views on social media is very refreshing. (He gives examples in music and host of other industries.)
9.    He has brilliantly applied Marshall McLuhan classic litmus test questions on media
a.      What does the medium enhance or amplify?
b.      What does the medium make obsolete?
c.       What does the medium flip into when pushed to extreme?
He takes Automotive and Cellphone as examples – and I am convinced by his explanations.
10.  He highlights the benefits of local currencies and importance of thriving local economies.

Now coming back to his Twitter: It was successful, but it is not successful enough to justify the money investors have pumped in. Already it had good revenues, happy employees, users were well served, but it may never grow enough to win back 100 times the initial $20Billion bet. To do that, it has to grow bigger and faster than the economy of many nations! Isn’t that a bit too much to ask of an app that sends out messages of 140 characters or less?
He says that there is a disproportionate relationship between capital and value.

He points out that for some of the products prices may be low – but costs (he means social to a large extent) are high. Receptionist being replaced by answering machines, managers getting replaced by algorithms, workers being replaced by robots etc. His examples are really striking and poignant.

In any case, I am going to read more of his works.

Thanks for reading this far.