General Thinking

Language of Marketing

I have been contributing some of my writing to a project called the Carbon Almanac which was conceived by Seth Godin. Gave me an opportunity to quiz him on things.

He has written a total of 21 books. Last week, I asked him if any of his books had failed and he told me one of his books had succeeded only in Germany! Boo-fucking-hoo.

Got me thinking about how successful he has been. All he does is write about marketing and how to leverage marketing. Although, he has published a few rants on ‘how broken education is’; most of his work is in the area of marketing. 

Marketing is about spreading ideas. He has been able to spread ideas using his books. 

How many great marketing thinkers do we know who do not speak English?

How many thinkers, who do not know English, would have great ideas?

How much voice would a Brazilian Seth Godin, who knew only Portuguese, have had?

I do not know any great German or French marketing thinker. But at the same time, only Louis Vuitton can sell $50 bags made in Bangladesh for $50,000. Only SAP can sell enterprises atrocious software for the price at which it does. It is so bad that it takes months to implement. 

There seems to be a reason that most of the marketing thought seems to emerge from the USA. 


If only the South Americans had allowed the ‘right’ people to loot them. They would have been so much more prosperous.

What if Seth had been German? Would he be as successful?

Also, what is the marketing sauce that Louis Vuitton uses? What marketing dark arts are we missing out on? Would we ever find out; locked up in our Anglophilic world?

General Thinking


Economics is a social science that studies the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services.

A huge portion of the foundation of what we call economics today was laid down by the British of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Yes, the very same people who went plundering half the world. The very same people who caused starvation elsewhere so that they could keep shareholder returns coming. The very same people who invented the Opium trade. One can argue that they were not the nicest people to populate the land.

The global financial and economic system today is based on the thoughts of these people. It is no wonder that one of the fundamental assumptions of economics is that man is selfish and you need to appeal to that selfishness in order to get anything done. This is how we arrive at the temple of shareholder value. 

Everything bad in this world – Poverty, hunger, exploitation, climate change – is a result of that economics and its relentless drive

Just imagine if Economics was a study that emerged out of Japan!

If you expect the worst out of people, that is what you will get. Economics expects it and it gets it.

General Thinking

Man’s Seach for Meaning

This is a book by Viktor E Frank, who is a psychologist from Vienna. He gets caught by the Nazis and sent to the concentration camps. He describes in detail his experiences at the camp. As a psychologist, he got to watch the way in which the thinking of people around him changed as they spent an indeterminate time at the camp. He shares a large number of stories of incidents that took place at the camp and how they helped him arrive at insights about suffering and hope. I am sharing some of the key ones that struck me from the book.

Happiness cannot be pursued but has to ensue. Much the same way that success cannot be pursued, it must ensue. Those who spend a lot of time pursuing happiness end up unhappy because it keeps eluding them. 

You cannot control your circumstances. But whether you are free or not you always have control over your attitude. Even a person at a concentration camp can have a good attitude or a bad attitude about what was happening.

What you have experienced no force on the planet can take from you. What he learnt about psychology and what eventually made him successful were born out of the experiences that he endured at the concentration camp. 

It is not about what you expect from life but what life expects from you. We all feel down and desperate when we feel that life is not delivering what we expect from it. But often, those are the moments when life expects something from you. To overcome that challenge so you could share it with someone in the future. There is a purpose to what you are going through, the challenge is to find the purpose.

He describes a patient, who comes to him and tells him about the grief he feels on the passing of his wife. 

Viktor: What would have happened to your wife if you had passed instead of her?

Patient: I am sure she would have felt a lot of grief and suffered.

Viktor: In that case, are you not saving her from that suffering by having survived her.

Suffering is not a problem, but suffering needs to have meaning. Suffering for suffering’s sake is masochism. But suffering when done for a purpose is valuable. 

Mental health is about the tension between what man has achieved and what man ought to achieve or the remaining purpose. People who feel that they have achieved all that they have to and do not have much to look forward to. They end up having mental breakdowns because they do not see any more purpose in their life. Their life merely turns into existence. 

General Thinking


When you undertake to solve a question in algebra. Once you solve it, you will spend some time checking the steps to make sure that you have not made any mistakes in the solution. Irrespective of how good you are at mathematics, there is always a possibility that you could have made a mistake.

To err is human.

But the very same people, when it comes to their professions would never bother to check the steps that they took to arrive at their conclusion. How many doctors do you think, sit back and analyse if what they are thinking is right or if they have made any mistakes in arriving at their conclusion? How many CEOs go over all the evidence that they have taken into account to arrive at the decision that they have?

We may discuss and offer up evidence, but we rarely double-check ourselves.

Given how often we humans make mistakes, is it right that we are so certain of the decisions that we make?

General Thinking

Human Rationality

In mathematics, the transitive law states:

x>y and y>z then it implies x>z

The trouble with humans is that when it comes to making choices, they are not transitive at all!

If you prefer coffee over tea and you prefer tea over hot chocolate does not imply that you would prefer coffee over hot chocolate. Psychologists have conducted similar experiments with mate selection and other such areas of human choice to prove quite conclusively that human choice is not transitive. This implies also that human choice is much less rational than you would think it is. 

The entire discipline of economics is based on the assumption that humans are rational beings. Time and again though, our own choices show that we are not rational at all. Even so, we continue to use economics as the bedrock of financial planning for governments policies.

It is time to reconsider the art of Economics and re-write the very fundamentals of it.

On that note, I was recently reading about Amos Tversky, I read;

He worked with an economics professor who was always telling him how stupid someone or the other in the university was. Amos quipped, your subject assumes human rationality and yet you only seem to come across stupid people.

General Thinking

Appeal of the Extremist

Would you like it more spicy or less? If you were serving 100 people and you kept asking the same till you have 50, who would like it spicier and 50 who would like it less spicy, you would have arrived at the mean.

The normal distribution curve is considered the truth of life. Following the normal distribution curve implies serving the majority in the middle. Normal Distribution will tell you it is the best way to reach the most; almost 70% of the people fall within 1 standard deviation from the mean.

Barring the people who fall exactly on the mean, neither side would feel that the food is incredible. Congratulations! You have just managed to disappoint everyone. 

If instead, you were to cook up something that really appeals to one end of the distribution curve; you might end up appealing to only 2% – 15% of them. 


They will be willing to talk a lot about you. There are not too many people serving this crowd with exactly what they want. They may even bring some of the people who are closer to the mean towards the extreme.

Just try this, it is the best! 

If you were to take a survey on how much people care, those at the mean would probably care the least. The people who care a lot tend to be at these extremes. Since they care a lot, you receive word of mouth. How much someone cares does not normal distribution.

This is what makes startups thrive. Catering to a small audience that cares a lot about what you do. This is also the same thing that makes extremists thrive. The internet is filled with niche segments that can be attacked through specifically targeted marketing. Unfortunately, the same tools that startups use to target niche customers are being used to target niche ideologies. They tend to care more and bring many more into the fray. 

This is the appeal of the extremist. Create something that appeals to the fringes and they will do your bidding. 

General Thinking


I was recently reading a book called Wanderer, Kings, Merchants by Peggy Mohan who is a language researcher. The book summarises the rise of various Indian languages and the metamorphosis that they have undergone over the millennia. The first language to come to India was the one that was used by the Harappan Civilisation. It is now lost to history because we have not found any way to translate it.

The people of the Harappan civilisation who continued their wanderings moved down along the western coast to finally settle in what is today’s south India. From there emerged Proto Dravidian which gave birth to Tamil. From that, a cornucopia of other languages emerged including Marathi and Gujrati. The language that evolved in north India was Prakrit. Somewhere in the midst, Sanskrit arrived from what would be Uzbekistan today, along with the Rig Veda.

Language takes on a new flavour either because it is the only way to communicate with those in power or breeding between people who know different languages causes the progeny to acquire language. In the case of Sanskrit, the Aryans who came into India married local women and passed on the language. 

While Sanskrit survived due to the Vedas and the Vedic rituals, it cannot be said that the language assumed widespread common usage.

The same was not true when the British came to India. They brought English and were eventually able to ensure that the language became the language of the government. They taught English to locals, to administer their loot of India. Unfortunately by the time independence came around, there were two factors that made Indians hold on to English. 

Inertia, the existing systems of governance were meant to work in English and changing them would cause a lot of disruption. 

The Southern states did not want Hindi imposed on them. They were willing to deal with English rather than utilise another Indian language.

As a result, most of the government machinery uses English and it became a status symbol to know the language. It has also meant that we are no longer working on the preservation of our own languages. Even when someone like Modi, who likes to stick to Hindi, gives a speech today; he is forced to use English words. Yesterday at the COP26 he said, “Bharat mein hum 500-gigawatt ki renewable capacity create karenge” [In India we will create renewable capacity of 500GW]. Sure, some of those words can be translated to pure Hindi. What is the Hindi word for Giga and Watt?

Almost every Indian language is a state of Diglossia.

Diglossia –the use of two varieties of the same language in different social contexts throughout a speech community

Source: Merriam Webster

We are all losing our languages. English is slowly but surely creeping into the language we use and there are so many words for which we know not the equivalent in the Indian language we use. When the most staunch proponents of a language do not know word equivalents, you can rest assured the days of that language are numbered. Languages don’t disappear. They decline slowly and then become irrelevant.

Almost every Indian language is on a decline.

I had visited Iceland a few years ago and it is a country of some 3 lac people. But they had a department in their govt that was dedicated to creating word equivalents. The rise of science and technology has given us so many new words like the keyboard, the mouse, crypto-currency; it is impossible that your language has an equivalent. Icelanders keep inventing new Icelandic words to mean the same. This is so that they do not let English penetrate and kill their language. 

That ship has sailed for the Indian languages. The next time you use an English word while speaking in your mother tongue, that is a sign of Diglossia.

General Thinking

AI for Good

One of the questions I often used to be asked was; Would AI cause joblessness?

My answer always was, a hammer can be used to make things or destroy things. The hammer is not at fault, it is the user, usually, a man wielding the hammer who is at fault.

AI will not cause joblessness. AI in the hands of the capitalist certainly will. The fundamental tenet of capitalism is to hoard money till the day you die, only so that the next generation can continue the good work.

Economists believe that for some people, it is the only way that they can be “motivated”.

I came across an advertisement this morning. The video had a snippet of Shah Rukh Khan and hence I assumed that it had something to do with the political saga unfolding around his son. I was gladly surprised!

This is the ad.

The ad asks local retailers to go to and make their own ad with Shah Rukh Khan endorsing their store. They can use the video to promote their store on Whatsapp or on any other social media.

You do not expect Shah Rukh Khan to be shooting a million videos right!

Here comes AI to the rescue.

There you see how AI is used to make something good. This is also the power of AI. Do you want to make or break things, you decide.

PS – This is not an endorsement of Cadbury’s. I think it is fuckall company pursuing practices that are detrimental to the climate and destroying the rainforests in Brazil. So, don’t buy Cadbury’s but DO buy from all the rest.

General Thinking

Work in Progress

We all are works in progress.

We always have been; always will be.

None of us is the same as the day before. Just like a tree which is never the same on a subsequent day as the day before. The trouble is that the change is hard to see. Have you ever woken up, looked out the window, seen a tree you see every day and thought; that has changed!

As humans, we are only capable of seeing big changes. 

If someone loses 15 Kgs you will notice. But who the hell has ever lost 15 Kgs in a day. Alas, we just do not have the ability to see that we lost 100 Grams. This is part of the reason most people give up on their exercise regime. Improvement is never a step change but a series of small changes that accumulate over time to make a huge difference. Weight is still something that can be measured.

Have you gone back to something you had written years ago and found it to be crap? The you, who wrote it would not have felt it was crap. If you had thought so, you would not have written it. But sometimes the only way to get better is by writing a lot of crap. You hope that there will still be those who take the time to read it and encourage you.

The most important thing is to make sure that you are moving in the right direction. The only way to establish that for a fact is by asking for the opinion of others. When it comes to weight, we ask the opinion of the weighing machine. Who do you ask, when it is a creative pursuit?

Create something – ask people what they think about the creation – improve – repeat.

Apply this to anything you want to get better at.

Ultimately, you need to persist. You need to keep doing whatever it is and keep improving a little bit at a time.

When you do not lose weight at first, don’t give up.

When you write junk at first, don’t give up.

Keep working and progress will come to you. Even when that progress comes, you will still be a work in progress.

General Thinking

Wrong Lessons

Often the outcome of a decision ends up determining our assessment of the quality of the decision. What it also does is that it makes sure that we learn all the wrong lessons.

In 1986 as the space shuttle program was reaching maturity, people were losing interest in the human spaceflight program. As public interest waned, NASA was under serious threat of budget cuts. Determined to reinvigorate interest, they recruited a school teacher to go to space. The idea of a civilian travelling to space would reinvigorate imagination, get the entire schooling system excited and keep the interest alive. This was going to be the 25th mission that the space shuttle would be undertaking.

One of the engineers on the team flagged an issue with the rubber rings that were used to seal the fuel tank. He found out that in very cold temperatures they do not work as expected. The shuttle had been flown 24 times without an issue, consensus in the higher management was that there was no reason to assume anything would go wrong.

With the teacher on the shuttle, this was a high profile national television event and they did not want to delay the launch because someone had a hunch.

The Challenger exploded second after liftoff and it was the first loss of human life since the NASA spaceflight program had taken off the ground.

You can make bad decisions and still succeed. Success only makes you assume that you did everything right. You discount luck completely. Tell a successful person that they got lucky, they will look at you as if you slapped them in the face. You need to constantly be on the hunt for what can fail you, especially when you succeed.

The corollary can also be true. You can make really good decisions and still fail.  We often do not have any problem ascribing this to bad luck.

Do not take away the wrong lessons from success or failure. They are two sides of the same coin. Your decisions matter, but so do a lot of factors that you would never be able to control. Always keep your eye on things that you cannot control. Especially when you succeed.

The dog is making a good decision but failing!