What’s Luck Got to Do With Breakout Success

I enjoy putting together a once-a-year panel of successful entrepreneurs for the Pune OpenCoffee Club. This year’s panel was posed an interesting question. Someone from the audience asked “What role do you think luck has had to play in your success?” There are two extreme perspectives that one might take. These were relatively young entrepreneurs, each one having distinctive achievements early on in their lives. On one hand, was the surprise breakout success each one had had. On the other hand, each one’s struggle was undeniably real. While each one of them listed the ingredients of their success, none of them mentioned luck. The audience on the other hand didn’t immediately believe that the panelists weren’t favored in any way.

Tom Preston-Werner, Cofounder at GitHub has one way of looking at luck (from his talk at Startup School 2010 “Optimizing for Happiness“). As an entrepreneur’s wits get sharper with time (or hungrier, if you must) the way he looks at luck is both what he can control and what he can’t control. It’s both you and this constant we can’t change. He might not be able to control if someone will invest in him, but he can control if he will choose to invest in himself.

Tom’s journey began with that choice. He relates that he asked himself “Should I seek permission to build GitHub from an Investor? Or build it anyway?” He’s shared other choices in a similar fashion, including picking a big idea, moving to San Francisco, bootstrapping his company, giving Gravatar away to WordPress, choosing his cofounders, giving autonomy to his employees, deciding on an office space and so on.

In hindsight, I do agree with Tom that luck does have a role to play whether good things will happen to you or not. Before luck swings your way you cannot know for certain when it will strike. With that in mind it’d be foolish to assume that you can cease stacking the odds. Pick the objectives that you believe are right (or as Tom says, optimize on happiness) and keep at it. Learn to get better at recognizing what needs to be in your favor and its role in your eventual success. Interacting with a peer-circle of successful and experienced entrepreneurs is one way to stay sharp.

As Tom recommends, stop waiting on Luck and start acting on key decisions proactively. Then you have a real choice from day zero and a better chance of picking up on favorable winds.


A Conversation with the Infinite

What does it take to have a great first conversation? While I can only guess as to what that is, I’m going to put my money on not having made any presumptions at all, not only for yourself but for those your speaking to as well.

This is way harder than it sounds. Most business-people will tell you that no conversation can be had without an objective at the outset. On the other hand, those interested in efficiency will say that a conversation where you rediscover the obvious is boring. For me personally, I tend to jump to intellectually-driven responses that can weigh the conversation down.

Occasionally I might get to point out some thing about or to the other person that will surprise them, not necessarily in always a good way or bad way. Perhaps its the discovery of a blind spot, or something valuable, not necessarily rationalized, but true. As in any magic trick you need your partner to make an emotional investment before this is even possible. Its the act of prioritizing our choices that prepares the context for a surprise. This is possible in the form of a question, or even an observation.

Conversations are still a very human act at their center. Practice always.


Pick the Right Candidate

Our General Election is underway and I’m scheduled to cast my vote on the 17th with others from my city. The media is practically running out of confrontational verbs, “Rahul Slams Modi”, “Pawar Criticises Election Commission” and so on. The mind is exhausted by the narrow focus of the information it’s being fed and is starved for the truth.

How do you pick out the right candidate?

I think that’s the important question. If we overestimate the impact of our individual vote, in the process we might be led to believe we’re helping a party win over the candidate. Rather the opposite is true. The candidate I pick represents me in parliament, if he wins. I learned that lesson the hard way in our last general election.

However, your vote does eventually decide who will lead our nation.

Last night, I watched Christopher Hitchens and Tariq Ramadan debate if Islam is a religion of Peace. Tariq’s opening argument, struck a deep chord with me. He interprets Islam as a means of self-education for the individual to help realize the road to peace irrespective of whether the times you live in are violent or peaceful.

This post is not about the religion, or any other religion but about our co-existence and continued prosperity.

Pick the party that can show all of us the way to work together in a way that does not compromise the fundamentals rights that we’ve been granted through our constitution. The one that respects the universal need for peace.

While we leave civic education to schools, our schools can reach only a fraction of our population. The other portion, including our educated adults, people like me still grasp at straws when making this important choice.


Confidence in Innocence

The other day, I was sitting on my Dad’s lap on a revolving chair and watching a movie. I leaned back and caused the chair to tilt. We were both in free-fall. Dad instinctively lifted me up in the air. On having completed the fall, he put me down on the ground to his right. For a brief moment I stood there surprised at the sudden turn of events. Realizing I was ok, I turned to Dad and said “I didn’t get hurt as I am Bheem“.

Greatly inspired by “It’s me, Saksham“.


A First Vlog

Blogging can get easier. I’ve been putting up vlogs, rolling out two this week around concepts that I’ve been exploring. It all started when I put in an application to an incubator that needed a one-minute video introduction.

Getting Politicians to Debate Live Online.
Key Behavioral Concepts that Drive Ventures: Existential Freedom, Emotional Investment.

PS. Thank you for the kind wishes for my birthday.

 


Can Blogging be any Easier?

My blogs have been neglected of late.  I feel a bit like I may have lost my edge here.

Writing a blog post ought to really be easy. Peculiar mindsets make it harder. I’ve been writing a closed journal and that too hasn’t been flourishing thanks to the long hours that are going into getting a server setup and writing code, making phone calls for my latest initiative. Free time is spent with the family, going out and getting chores done, or on youtube.

I’m currently reading “How Children Succeed” by Paul Tough. Eddie Griffin’s “Freedom of Speech” is funny and soo politically incorrect.

I’m working through web app development in grails, bootstrap, deploying grails and concepts of project automation, continuous integration. I’ve also spent a little part of the week updating my vimrc which is now on github. I’m working out how I can get Alfred, a launcher to work better with macvim and run IDE-like searches.

This week the big challenge met successfully has been to get past growWith.in‘s first feature out. We’ve published our first-list of industry experts to assist first-time entrepreneurs with Business Modeling. Its been quite an effort coding and recruiting experts side-by-side. I’m looking forward to the payoff and feedback over the course of next week.

Another challenge that I’ve come up to is taming our tomcat deployment. The Java world is still surprisingly casual with Memory issues. I find an OutOfMemory exception in our production server after redeploying applications about 2 – 3 times. Lately these take the form of ‘out of PermGen space‘. We’re still to identify a PaaS that will help eliminate system administration responsibilities, in-turn driving productivity up.

My current activity patterns are a huge change from pre-September days and especially after having quit my last employment position. It has been a long, fun ride!


The Chess Classroom

Everyone has a point in their pre-teen years where they discover the road the self-instruction. It’s a point where you finally recognize the path to learning, or to learn about learning. We’re born with ability, we just won’t see it right away. No faith in modern ways tend to cloud knowledge of it. Right from the start we have teachers, systems, or caregivers. As we grow up we’re immersed in an always connected world. Some where in between those two ages the opaque doors that shield discovery are broken through.

I recall learning to play chess with my recently retired neighbor. As a fifteen year old it was about finding ways to get better. Find books on chess in the library (didn’t have the web at home in 1993). Get a chess program to play with on the XT. Improve the skill level bit by bit. I sure didn’t exercise these habits when school subjects were in the picture.

When on the path, our proverbial student acknowledges his ability to define and take on new challenges. While on the path he learns to tip life out of balance and take on a mindset that’s conducive to change. He’s caught up in a fever and can ignore everything else. Challenges to him could mean both things – those he likes and those he doesn’t. Every day, he ratchets up his skill and challenge level together.

A Chess Tournament

A Chess Tournament, by ninahale on flickr.com. Some rights reserved. Click through for details.

It isn’t always a continuous or successful process. Naturally, obstacles that aren’t necessarily in line with cognitive abilities appear – outside his practice, as well as inside it. It’s at this point that we learn what constraints mean. We learn that the path isn’t about pure intellectual or internal achievement.

The student works so that learning be life long. It can’t pay off if you’re always in comfortable positions. It certainly won’t pay off if you’re only rigid, or only flexible.

It definitely will pay off if you think of failure and success as something we do. Not as destinations. I promise I won’t downplay failure, I know its hard.

Both are great teachers that we all need to meet. Meet them early, meet them daily. What the student does right after that meeting is important. At times, he attempts to hide his ability from potential social embarrassment, or perhaps attempts to nurture it protectively; In a way that won’t acknowledge reality. In other words those same constraints that the path starts out from in the first place.

The good news – the best classroom where this is happening is the one you’re in right now. Look around. There are others with you too.

Dedicated to the inspiring IS318 Chess team.


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