Thursday, July 30, 2015

Learning Optimism

Being positive is associated with the feelings of happiness and achievement. And more importantly positive thinking can be learnt. Here are three ways how negative people think and how it can be replaced with positive thinking.
  • Permanent. Situation: A girl rejected a boy. Negative: Ohh.I'm doomed. I will not be able to have a girl in my life. Positive: There are lot of girls in this world. If not this, then I can find someone else.
  • Pervasive. Situation: A person's joke bombed. Negative: I knew I was not funny. Stupid of me to try this. Positive: Ok, this joke didn't fit for this audience. I will try some other joke.
  • Personal. Situation: A person got a angry answer from someone. Negative: I know he doesn't like me. Thats why he shouts and doesn't want to talk with me. Positive: Ok, seems that that guy is having a bad day today. Hope his problem is resolved soon.
See how different the perspectives are ? If you can think of any situation not as permanent, pervasive and personal but as temporary, localized and impersonal, it is easy to be more positive.
From - Learned Optimisim by Martin Seligman courtesy of FightMediocrity( .

Increasing your will power

  • Get enough sleep. If you dont get enough sleep you are like an intoxicated person or like a person with ADHD. Then it is difficult for you to resist unhealthy or useless stuff.
  • Meditate. Willpower is like a muscle. If you excercise the muscle, it will become stronger. Meditation is like excercise for the mind. During meditation, you get multiple thoughts to derail you but you will learn to ignore them and concentrate on the object of interest. The more you meditate, the easier for you to ignore the useless stuff.
  • First thing first. Willpower is a limited resource. So you have to use it carefully. The best way to use it is to build good habits so that good things become automatic. If a habit is ingrained, you don't need to expend willpower to do that. The mind will do it on auto pilot. Another thing is to use the limited willpower you have to do difficult and creative things first rather than checking facebook or answering email.
Source: from the book How to have more will power - by Kelly McGonigal 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Holistic Learning

Holistic Learning - Scott Young
  • In our brains information is not organized neatly into boxes but it is linked to other information we have.
  • So if we form multiple constructs and find links between them, then we should be able to retrieve them easily.
  • Since they will be linked like a web, even if we lose (forget) one link, we can easily work out the whole domain based on the other links.
  • To form constructs, we need to create models which can be simple ones just to understand the concept at hand.
  • Once the models are formed, then can be linked together to form constructs.
  • This works well in fields which is built upon concepts like science, math, relationships etc. but it will not work on fields just built arbitrarily like law, vocabulary etc.
  • It also doesn't work on skills which are learnt subconsciously by practice like golf or any sport.
How can we build good constructs
  • To form models, it would be helpful to viscerally experience the concept. It is not just visualization but sight, sound, touch and feel the thought. You can start by drawing the concepts on paper, but with practice we can do this entirely in our mind.
  • We can form models by visceralization but they will not be linked, we can use metaphors to link the models. We can do this by playing a game of 'this reminds me of..' even though they seem ridiculous at first, you should be able to form links which would strengthen the construct.
  • In this stage, we need to test our construct to reduce errors and fill any holes it might have. The best way is to solve problems with the concepts we have learnt. If we are having to solve the same problem again and again, it means we haven't formed models and constructs well. Just studying wouldn't really strengthen the model. Active recall helps test the models as we don't have anything else to fall back on.
You can read the book here for a more thorough explanation. 

Friday, July 3, 2015

Smartcuts - book summary

Smartcuts by Shane Snow looks into lives of people who have achieved success by working smart instead of working just hard and tries to explain the techniques they have used in their life for reaching success faster. Here are smartcuts... 

  1. Skip the ladder. Parley what you have with something bigger and better. Jump the ladder to a different field example. Get small wins while switching ladders as it lowers the resistance to subsequent proposals.
  2. Train with the masters. Either directly or indirectly by watching their videos or reading their books. 
  3. Get rapid feedback - in a permissive environment - For e.g. a comedy club where participants get rapid feedback about what is working and what is not working will let them quickly improve their craft. Try to get quick feedback on whatever you're working on. 
  4. Use Platforms - use what you have now as a platform for something better. This can be also be seen in software engineering platform where all the low level details are abstracted and we can work on high level instead of bothering about the low level ones. 
  5. Superconnectors - use superconnectors to reach more people. JJ Abrams an american director used the help of superconnectors to reach the top, but even after he got success he worked together with other people to help them. 
  6. Ride A Wave - The best way to catch a wave is to be in the water when the wave comes. And the best way to  be in the water when the wave comes is to keep some time aside for swimming. For e.g Google has 20% time for their employees, so they can use that time to work on what is interesting to them. That way they were able to ride the wave of using ajax for  faster email client (GMail). 
  7. Momentum - Harness the momentum caused by superconnectors . When a superconnector mentions or gives you publicity you should be ready to use that momentum. For e.g if a youtube video goes viral, you should be able to build on that momentum. The book talks about an example where a hair stylist's video went viral and since she had a list of videos already created, people noticed them and she was able to get more subscribers. On the other hand a comedian's video also went viral but he didn't have anything else to show for more than couple of months and the momentum created by the superconnector was lost. the book also talks about how the Oreo cookie had prepared for SuperBowl ad and how the ad agency created momentum. 
  8. 10X thinking - We are not very motivated by low hanging fruit, but we are more motivated by impossible think 10x. How SpaceX motivated people to not give up after few failures and how it inspired people to reach the goal of better rocket. 
  9. Simplicity - Start from first principles. If people wanted to improve transportation they could have bred better horses instead of inventing automobiles.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Effective Executive - Conclusion

An executive's job is to be effective
And and effectiveness can be learned. 

1. The first step toward effectiveness is a procedure: recording
where the time goes.
After this the time wasters are identified and priorities are reset and it will increase the executive's effectiveness. This can also be done by going through a checklist every few months. 

2. The next step is for an executive to focus on contribution. To contribute is to ask questions about where can he contribute, his values and placing higher goals on himself. In other words to think through purpose than means alone. 

3. Making strengths productive is fundamentally an attitude
expressed in behavior. It is fundamentally respect for the person—one’s own as well as others. It is a value system in action.But it is again “learning through doing” and self-development
through practice. In making strengths productive, the executive integrates individual purpose and organization needs, individual capacity and organization results, individual achievement and
organization opportunity.

4. It is the habit of putting first things first.  It is develop the behaviors of self reliance, foresight to see things right and courage. It is about developing leadership of dedication, determination and serious purpose. 

5. The effecive decision is not straightforward. It has to be taken based on the situation but still the process which can be followed like find the generic problem, find the specifications of the solutions, find the boundary conditions and take a decision which can satisfy the conditions and make the decision into action steps and get feedback regularly are only steps for that. It will train executives in effective judgement. 

One more line verbatim from the book - 
Organizations are not more effective because they have better
people. They have better people because they motivate to
self-development through their standards, through their habits,
through their climate. And these, in turn, result from systematic,
focused, purposeful self-training of the individuals in becoming
effective executives.

Self-development of the executive toward effectiveness is the
only available answer. It is the only way in which organization
goals and individual needs can come together. The executive
who works at making strengths productive—his own as well as
those of others—works at making organizational performance
compatible with personal achievement. He works at making his
knowledge area become organizational opportunity. And by
focusing on contribution, he makes his own values become
organization results.

Finally effectiveness must be learned. 

Effective Executive - Decisons

An executive has to understand that there are no facts. Every one has an opinion. So each opinion should be tested against reality. So he should ask - What should we know to test this hypothesis.
Finding the appropriate measurement is not a matter of mathematical judgement. It is a risk-taking judgement.

Next one has to consider alternatives. Because our decision may be wrong. And alternatives even if they are not right bring about all the points about the item of discussion. And if our decision is wrong, we would already have thought out the alternatives.

One more thing is an executive can take a decision after bringing out the disagreements on the table. That way he can guard himself against the people with special request who want to tilt the decision their side.

Ignore the small things if they don't really affect the decision. Sleep on the decision a couple of days or weeks at max and even within that time, the demons haven't spoken, then the effective executive should go ahead with the decision even if he doesn't like it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Effective Executive - Elements of Decision making

The effective executive doesn't take many decisions.

He will try to solve the problem at the highest level of abstraction.

When he comes across an issue, he will think about whether it is a symptom of a larger problem that needs to be solved or is it a one time incident and takes a decision at the appropriate level.

There are five elements of decision making

1. Try to find the most generic problem for a decision is being made.

2. Determine what are the conditions that must be satisfied by the decision. What are the boundary conditions that need to be satisfied for the decision to be true.

3. Think through what is right before and a solution which fully satisfies the conditions before thinking of compromises to make the decision work.

4. No decision is taken until it is converted into action steps and some one is made responsible for the actions.

5. Finally a feedback  mechanism should be in place to periodically check if the decision is working.
and is still valid.

Always assume that the problem is generic and try to solve for it.  

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Effective Executive - First Things First

There are always more things that need to be done than what an executive can do.
And even then only a little of his time is really his/her own time after the demands of the organization.

So an effective executive has to think through his priorities and decide his topmost priorities and only do them. These are the guidelines to decide the top priorities

Courage rather than analysis dictates the truly important
rules for identifying priorities:
• Pick the future as against the past;
• Focus on opportunity rather than on problem;
• Choose your own direction—rather than climb on the
bandwagon; and
• Aim high, aim for something that will make a difference,
rather than for something that is “safe” and easy to do.

Since future is not pressing, most of the time is lost of maintaining the past. But in reality the executive has to look to the future and work about making it better instead of correcting his/her predecessor's mistakes.

Focus on opportunity and make sure to capitalize on it. Any merger or acquisition which needs to be done today can't be done after 5 years. Everything would have changed and the situation that was true in that time will not be true now.

Accomplish one priority, will itself alter the priorities. So always check the priorities and concentrate the top priorities and leave the rest. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Effective Executive - Making Strengths effective

An effective executive staffs for strengths. He doesn't look for weakness.
You cannot hire a hand, a man also comes with it.

An effective executive must hire for the job. If a person can perform, he should be hired irrespective of his weakness (mainly values which will poison the whole org if not right). A job should not be molded to fit a person as it will lead to favoritism and who is right.

These are the tips to make strengths effective.

1. If more than two people have failed in the job even though they have succeeded in their previous jobs, it means that the job has failed them and so redesign the job.

2. An effective executive looks to fill a job with the right person by looking at past performance and for this reason performance appraisals are important. But the current appraisal system of looking for mistakes is not suited as it damages the relationship between employer and employee. Instead he asks for making an appraisal with the following points.

(a) “What has he [or she] done well?”
(b) “What, therefore, is he likely to be able to do well?”
(c) “What does he have to learn or to acquire to be able to
get the full benefit from his strength?”
(d) “If I had a son or daughter, would I be willing to have
him or her work under this person?”
(i) “If yes, why?”
(ii) “If no, why?”

“Does this man
have strength in one major area? And is this strength relevant to
the task? If he achieves excellence in this one area, will it make a
significant difference?” And if the answer is “yes,” he will go
ahead and appoint the man.

3. It is very important that the job is challenging to bring out whatever strength a man has. If the job is small, he is setup for small performance. The man who does not first ask, “What can a man do?” is bound to accept far less than the associate can really contribute.

4. He has to accept that there is weakness along with strength and make strengths effective. for e.g if a great researcher doesn't work well with people, he can be left alone to do research without any people management etc.

It is important to know that there is no 'indespensible man'. What it means either the suborndinate is ineffective or the executive is ineffective and he should be moved somewhere else soon.

It goes without saying that a job has to be filled with the most effective person possible and no excuses should be allowed.

He also gives us tips to find what our strengths are...
Whether we work better in the morning or evening, with or without distractions, with or without team, read well before you start work or listen from someone before you start and how will you do negotiate etc..Some work well if they know what is the outline of the job. Some work even when they don't have anything about the job. Some work well under pressure, so need more time to do a job well etc.  All these things will tell you what your strengths are and will also tell you what you can and cannot do.. Use this to ask - what you can do and make your strengths effective. He looks at these and asks - what is that which i do with relative ease which others seem to struggle?

Finally the performance of a group is set by the performance of the leaders. The difference between the leader and the average is constant. If the leader sets a high standard, the average also goes up. So it is a responsibility to have the best person as the leader.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Effective Executive - What can I contribute

1. Effective workers ask what can I contribute. This makes his focus outward not on his skills and work but on how it can help the organization.
It changes the mindset of the executive from inward focussed to outward focussed. He will learn what is required to contribute and do that.

A specialist should learn about where his work is used and make sure his contribution is effective. He has to learn how to bridge his knowledge to the external world.

A effective executive communicates in regards to the work. His communication will be based on contribution. If he decides he has to do something for the organization, his communication will improve, his team work will improve. His quest for excellence also pushes his subordinates and superiors alike to do the best and it will improve them also.

An effective executive makes the best of meetings. he has a clear agenda. He listens to what others are speaking and finally summarizes by saying what was the opening question and what the conclusions are based on the meeting.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Effective Executive - Know Thy Time

The reality of a knowledge worker and even more if he is an executive is that they have very limited time at their disposal. They have to attend many meetings where nothing is done or have to do something just for being an executive at the company.

The most effective way of knowing where an executive's time goes is to maintain a time log. It might be startling in the beginning to know where exactly the time is going but it is the first step in a right diagnosis.

Once the logging is done, an effective executive can ask the following questions to save time.

1. What will happen if I dont do this?
2. Is there some other person who can do this more effectively than me?
3. Am I wasting someone else's time (for e.g by requiring everyone at a meeting when only a few are required etc..)

and respond effectively.

These are the general time wasters an organization to watch for as these also cause unnecessary time wastes

1. Recurrent crisis - If the same crisis occurs the second time, watchout for laziness as someone is not doing their job right or not taking the time to do it correctly.
2. Overstaffed = Adding more people sometimes doesn't increase the speed of the task, but decreases it as the interactions required between the poeple increases a lot.
3. Malorganization - Meetings are required because all the knowledge related to a task is not within one person's head and people need to come together to get all the information to do certain tasks. If meetings are taking more than 1/4 of the working time, it means the organization of a company is not correct and the information is being spread too thin or lot of people are doing the task only one person should do.
4. Malfunction in information - Sometimes plant provides information in some format and the executive wants it in another format. There is unnecessary time wasted in converting the information from one format to another. The best way is to automate this.

After all these are resolved, the executive arrives as the free time he has. This is his discretionary time. Any thing worth doing cannot be done quickly and it needs some block of time to be able to do that. For e.g. writing a first draft of a summary cannot be done in half an hour with all the interruptions. But if there is a two hour time block where one can't be disturbed then a draft can be prepared. So scheduling uninterrupted time blocks are important.

So the effective executive schedules his important work in large enough time blocks so that he will get done more without interruptions.

The final thing to remember is that this is a continuous process. If you have analyzed your time sometime back and made required changes, after six months, time slowly starts creeping into established habits. So a continuous analysis needs to be done to keep track of time and effectively utilize it.

The Effective Executive - Summary Part 1

The effective exective is a classic book by Peter Drucker about being an effective knowledge worker. For a knowledge worker productivity cannot be simply measured as widgets produced/hour. So it is very important that the worker itself understand productivity and how to be more productive.

Effective executives do the five following things to get the RIGHT THINGS DONE instead of just getting THINGS done RIGHT.

1. They know their time. They know how their time is being spent and they will take control of the little time they can control and use it systematically.
2. They focus on OUTWARD CONTRIBUTION. They ask 'What is expected out of me?' before thinking of what to do an what tools are available.
3. They work with strengths. They make the best of themselves, their colleagues, their team etc. They do it from strengths not weaknesses.
4. They concentrate on few things that make a lot of difference. They set priorities and stick to them. Other things, they don't do at all.
5. Finally, the make the right decisions. They realize that decision making is a systematic process and it is not done through consensus but inspite of dissenting opinions. What are required are few fundamental decisions not many glitzy ones.