Downshifting

Downshifting is a noticeable worldwide trend, one that I’ve experienced with myself, in my own personal network of 30-somethings and fellow startup founders. The first principle for downshift thinking is to be eager to trade in money for time.

Listing out the classic traits I’ve directly observed in downshifters:

  • Reducing the amount of time spent on apps, especially social networks such as facebook, twitter and trading that time in for face to face interaction and groups.
  • Making it imperative to avoid long commutes. Staying close to your workplace.
  • Investing time and effort in locating an irregular, or non-mainstream job position that may compromise on career growth but is rewarding in personal freedoms*.
  • Paying greater attention to pressing social issues, especially those that most people would be apathetic to.
  • Proactively investing time in kids, family, health, wealth, hands-on skills, creative endeavors.
  • Seeking time-tested methodologies that allow you to address the stresses of city life.
  • Making time and space to be with one’s self.
  • Seeking wisdom, answers to existential questions, or lasting purpose.

I wouldn’t laugh at this trend. Its growing and the startup world has taken to it in a big way. The corporate world will in time learn to acknowledge what’s happening here.

A note of caution, startup culture still promotes the image of the hard at work, 24×7 working founder, or fast cash-burning startup that makes it seemingly incompatible with personal behavior changes that come with downshifting. As always, I’d say to that “go your own way”. There’s plenty of exceptions out there.

* I’ve just discovered an intriguing book on “God’s Own Office“, the story of James Joseph, a Microsoft professional who sets up his home-office out of Kerala while continuing to work for Microsoft. You can get it in hardcover here on flipkart.com and kindle edition on amazon.com.

 

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What Exactly Does Adequate Attention Mean?

Sourcing good ideas is hard. The challenge manifests when attempting to source ideas from within and even from a slightly larger group of people. In all such cases, optimizing attention along a sensory dimension can help.

First, a few basic ideas. Sensory attention employs the sense organs. Abstract attention on the other hand, is attention that is independent of sensory input. At any given point of time, you’re applying both cognitive processes to various degrees.

When we’re a part of a novel or challenging experience, our abstract attention isn’t a priority. Let’s say you’re getting ready for a presentation. On standing up and presenting out loud to an audience, you’re optimizing on your aural as well as visual attention. In other words, you’re paying attention to a feedback loop that’s not just inside your mind. If on the other hand, you’re putting together slides seated at your desk – you’re engaging the presentation in a more abstract sense.

Here’s the catch. Abstract attention alone isn’t as sustainable, or effective in introducing contextual breakthrough as sensory attention is. Anyone who’s experienced school in India will identify with a scenario where the teacher’s yelling out “pay attention to the blackboard!”

This makes for some simple and odd-sounding solutions possible.

Do you think it’s possible for a brick-building game such as LEGO to foster team and business building? Maybe even change success rates in an educational environment?

LEGO Serious Play (wikipedia) claims all of the above. Teams are encouraged to collaborate and create projected story lines of their business, team or any concept as a 3D LEGO model. As you build it out, you’re paying attention to your hands employing both touch as well as visual attention. In a collaborative environment, you’re also unconsciously reading body language and employing empathy.

Switching contexts, when brainstorming on a startup idea, its easy to disregard an idea as unworkable without actual customer data, or contextual input to show that it’s promising. It’s also easy to overestimate the value of an idea based on what you’ve seen or heard. The challenge with an infant idea is that it’s an abstraction with potentially many inner ideas that could be rearranged for greater effectiveness. What’s needed is resolution before decision. This is certainly an area where increasing sensory attention beyond the average business model framework or story map can play a role in encouraging deeper thought and better decision-making.


Celebrating Minecraft’s Creator

Build what you want! Have you heard that one before?

Minecraft began as an idea in the mind of Markus “Notch” Persson. He released an early version of it in May 2009 after creating it in his spare time from home.  They’ve sold 54 million copies since! In September 2014, Mojang – Minecraft’s current owner sold out to Microsoft for $2Bn.

Minecraft’s a unique story that highlights two promises of our age – the ability for anyone to write software and instantly ship it to users at scale. If you’ve got the ingredients right, the sky is the limit.

The build cycle starts out with toying with several ideas, good and bad. The one that’s interesting is the one that gets built. As the very first user of what’s being built, the creator enjoys the advantage of the shortest possible feedback loop before users were to even get involved.

I’ve spent a considerable amount of thought over this bit of the loop. I’ve come to realize that attempting to give away the responsibility of this bit loses the entire point of the cycle. Communication is inherently lossy! Pleasant, unintended side effects of doing it oneself- keeping in only those features that are absolutely necessary and depriving naysayers altogether.

Sharp build skills have another amplifying side-effect. When you notice a workaround or a gap, you’re less likelier to turn to a lesser solution. Instead, you’re likelier to think “… that’s interesting, I can build that tonight.”

It’s also the only sure way that I know of dropping the many biases we carry. And yes, you’re going to get some ideas that suck.

This is to wish Markus well! His faith in ‘Build what you want’ is inspiring.

 

Build What You Want


Beyond Giving Up

What you do after giving in is a true window into character. If you think you’re going to get back on track, here’s a few thoughts from different books I’ve read over the past year that will help you on your way.

Do you know why you’re giving in? The key is to know the difference between a temporary setback from one that’s permanent. Often this clarity is elusive when unexpectedly overwhelmed.

Daniel Kahneman’s book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” describes an experiment where researchers gave guests puzzles to solve while measuring the dilation of pupils, heart rate. As the challenge level rose, they’d watch the pupils dilate as much as 50% and the heart rate go up by as much as 7 beats per minute. These physiological indicators were reliable enough to tell when the guest has given up,

During a mental multiplication, the pupil normally dilated to a large size within a few seconds and stayed large as long as the individual kept working on the problem; it contracted immediately when she found a solution or gave up. As we watched from the corridor, we would sometimes surprise both the owner of the pupil and our guests by asking, “Why did you stop working just now?” The answer from inside the lab was often, “How did you know?” to which we would reply, “We have a window to your soul.”

– Daniel Kahneman. Thinking, Fast and Slow (Get the Kindle edition on Amazon).

Did you get the challenge-level right? If it is a temporary setback and you’re keen on getting back on – revisit the challenge level. Think about what might make it easier for you to get into the flow of things.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s work on happiness describes a spontaneous process of immersion in  work that can only be achieved if you’re able to balance the challenge and skill level. Too great a challenge and your likely to be disillusioned. Too little and you’ll be bored.

flow model

Flow Model, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

– from Mihaly’s talk and book “Flow”, (Kindle Edition on Amazon).

Slow things down. One way to reduce the challenge level without compromising on the opportunity to learn and fix is to slow things down. Deliberately practice your steps so that you can do them correctly. With the help of repetition and stress on smaller steps you’re more likely to figure out what you need to do correctly.

In “Talent Code”, Daniel Coyle refers to deliberate practice as ‘deep practice’, breaking down a complex skill in order to learn it. He relates how students in various talent hotbeds first watch the skill in action as a coherent entity; slowing your own practice down to break down the moves into its component steps and imitating each one correctly over and over again.

At Spartak it’s called imitatsiya—rallying in slow motion with an imaginary ball. All Spartak’s players do it, from the five-year-olds to the pros. Their coach, a twinkly, weathered seventy-seven-year-old woman named Larisa Preobrazhenskaya, roamed the court like a garage mechanic tuning an oversize engine. She grasped arms and piloted small limbs slowly through the stroke. When they finally hit balls—one by one, in a line (there are no private lessons at Spartak), Preobrazhenskaya frequently stopped them in their tracks and had them go through the motion again slowly, then once more. And again. And perhaps one more time.

Daniel Coyle. The Talent Code: Greatness isn’t born. It’s grown (Get the Kindle Edition on Amazon).

The questions these excerpts will raise ought to be valuable for anyone who’s experienced the frustration of giving up on any objective. Fail and fail smart!


A little late sometimes, but we’ll always be there

If your co-worker’s phone rings and they’re not there at their desk, let them know with “someone was trying to get to you!”, which sounds way better than “Your phone was ringing!”.

Wish everyone out there a great friendship day, August 4th and the best of friends. Thank you for following.


Upcoming Movies in Science Fiction 2013


An Introduction to the World of Meditation

A year ago, I started down the path of consciously seeking a stronger connection within. I started out struggling to sit, no lotus, with support for my back. Now, with a simple-minded sense I self-study and practice with whatever is available on the topic online. I steadily peel away at successive layers of Zen thought. I can say now that what drew me to it in the first place is it’s unusually strong emphasis on ‘see for your self’.

On my best days I sit for a little above 25 minutes in half-lotus. I sit once on all days, busy or relaxed, easy or stressful, productive and not so productive. I sit in the day and in the night. I’ve come to a point where I am beginning to feel the hunger for a teacher to help me refine. A quick Internet search revealed a Zen retreat in Kodaikanal. Interestingly, there are renown Zen centers in Seattle as well as in Rochester. Both cities I’ve resided in but never looked past my nose for answers.

You can also join a virtual Zendo treeleaf.org, an online practice place that seeks to provide Zazen sittings, retreats, discussion, interaction with a teacher, and all other activities of a Soto Zen Buddhist Sangha. I found them on this reddit.com/r/zen thread.

For the uninitiated who is interested in learning more, I recommend poking around a bit on the Web. There is a wealth of information available on meditation online. See for your self!

Meditation is Universal!

An introduction to Meditation, Kavita Maharaj.

An introduction to Zen Meditation practice – Taigen Shodo Harada Roshi.