General Thinking

Explanation and Exception

Why are there seasons on our planet?

The ancient Greeks used to had their lore. Persephone, the daughter of Zeus and Demeter was abducted by Hades, the lord of the underworld. When Zeus consented to Persephone being married to Hades; Hades made a concession to allow her to visit her mother for 8 out of the 12 months in a year. This is why we have Spring, Summer and as the time for Persephone to leave comes closer, Summer gives way to autumn. During the 4 months when Persephone is away, Demeter becomes very sad. Demeter being the goddess of fertility robs the earth of its fertility and so the winters are cold.

This is an oversimplification of the story. I did not want to write 4 pages.

If any Greek had even visited Australia, the question of why is it summer in Australia when it is Winter in Greece might have come up. But that was not to be.

It is human to try to find a way to explain all the things that go on around us. This is part of the reason Economics is even an area of study. Truth be told, economics is about the psychological relationship between people and money. Whoever thought it might be possible to translate human psychology into a set of equations. But we NEED to explain.

If the Greeks had come across Australia, they would have probably created an exception to the rule. 

The earth is tilted on its axis and this axial tilt is what causes seasons. It also causes days to be longer in the summers closer to the poles and nights in winter. 

Every axiom, every rule, every law that you have ever been taught which has a corresponding exception is probably a poor explanation. It is there because we do not know the actual explanation. It is a placeholder in the interim so that it does not drive us crazy.

A good explanation does not require exceptions. It often ends up explaining other things that you were not even seeking to explain.

General Thinking

Chance and Life

The lore goes – when Edison created the light bulb he said “I did not fail a thousand times, I just found a thousand ways how not to make a light bulb.”

Now, think about that for a minute.

If you tried to do something a thousand times. It shows determination but it also shows that you are just waiting for probability to kick in and show you the way. If you attempted the IIM entrance exam 1000 times, I am sure at some point you are bound to clear it. Even if you were going there unprepared and just marked A for all questions.

The CEO of Nokia at the time of the Microsoft acquisition was Stephen Elop. He said, “we did not do anything wrong, but somehow, we lost.” In other words, it was sheer bad luck.

I often tell entrepreneurs to speak to those who have failed. They would be able to provide insights on the things that can trip you up. By comparison, someone who has succeeded will have little value to provide. In being successful, one would have certainly avoided several pitfalls. The trouble is, there are often more pitfalls that they avoided by sheer luck, which they did not even know existed, than the ones they avoided thoughtfully. 

Or as Bill Gates put it – Success is a poor teacher, it seduces smart people into thinking that they cannot lose.

Whether you are successful or not, there is a role that chance played in making it happen. We talk about chance only when something does not go our way. We never think about the role of chance in our life when things work out. WE just think that WE made it happen. 

We have gone to such extremes with this thinking that if someone were to succeed and you were to tell them, “it was your lucky day”; they would react as if you slapped them across their face. But someone who failed would love to palm off the responsibility of the failure to, “it wasn’t my day”.

Probability is real in everything we do. We need to learn to acknowledge it.

General Thinking

Burn your Ship

The story Hernán Cortéz is often cited by many as an act of bravery and courage. 

He left on an expedition to South America and upon arrival at Mexico, the first thing that he did was to ask his crew to burn the ships. There was going to be only one way out – Victory! Once they burnt the ships, they had to win at all costs. They could beat the Mexicans or die trying. The reason this story is referred to as a tale of courage is because they won! Had they died trying, it would have been a tale of human stupidity. 

Investors love to talk about entrepreneurs who do NOT believe in having a Plan B. Those who have 100% faith in their mission and are willing to go down fighting for it. I would like such investors to take their own advice and invest ALL of their monies in that one founder and show the willingness to burn the ship themselves. Why diversify?

Going back to Señor Hernán Cortéz. He was quite the womaniser who liked to maintain relationships with the wives of other men. He routinely lived beyond his means and had run up a huge debt in Spain. He set off for Mexico with a loan and would have rather committed suicide along the way than to return to Spain empty-handed. If he had gone back to Spain with nothing, his creditors would have had him thrown in jail. 

If you have any clue about what the Spaniards did to the natives of South America, you would understand why Cortéz wanted to avoid prison in Spain at all costs. He burnt his ship not because he was courageous; he burnt it because he was a coward and did not wish to face consequences back in Spain.

Smart people have a Plan B, just in case Plan A does not work out. You should not be driven to suicide if your plans don’t work out. 

General Thinking

Hard Work

is for fools!

In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty. ~ Proverbs 14:23

Americans did not invent capitalism. It was around 2000 years before the country even came into being as evidenced above. The Americans perfected it.

There is a myth that is at the heart of capitalism; the harder you work, the more you get paid. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Kindergarten teachers are the poorest paid — everywhere in the world — and it takes incredible work to handle 20 kids even with help. They probably have shorter hours than most other professions, but the work, during the hours that they put in is incredibly hard. Take a university professor by comparison. Those who are dedicated, end up running a consulting business on the side as well. Not only that, the universities themselves would easily pay them 20 times the money that the Kindergarten teachers are paid. Hard work gets paid like shit.

Nurses have the unenviable work of not only administering most of the medicines, getting the reading, changing the patient and cleaning them. Unquestionably harder work than the doctors. Doctors probably know more, in terms of medicine, which is what they have been trained in; if they were to undertake the upkeep of a patient, most would be unable to cope. We all know who gets paid more.

This brings us to the CEO as opposed to his workers. In any large company, the CEOs spend most of their time blowing up the money that those working in the company, make. They take a few decisions now and then and take the credit for things running smoothly. Most workers work infinitely harder than the CEO but they are not the ones who get paid the most.

There are just too many jobs in this world, that will take too much work for too little returns. Also, working really hard has never guaranteed more money.

The people who work in finance make the MOST money of any profession in the world. Also, when they screw up monumentally, the American government bails them out and they pay themselves huge bonuses. Their work requires ONLY talking most of the time. Hence proving that Proverbs 14:23 is completely wrong.

Hard work is for fools. Making money often comes down to being educated and having the willingness to be ruthless.

Also, follow me on Twitter @viveksrn to know when the newsletter drops.

What we think, we become ~ Buddha

You can follow my podcasts here.

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General Thinking

To be good…

You have to be willing to be bad first…

When I started writing this blog, I did, because there were those who told me that I spoke well and I should probably write. First of all, speaking and writing are two incredibly different skill. As much as singing and dancing are. Just because you are good with one, you need not be good with the other. 

Just like singing and dancing are both art forms; speaking and writing are both forms of expressing an idea.

For me, I needed to get started. The lockdown last year freed up a good 4 – 7 hours of time I would have normally spent sitting in a car shuttling across the city each day. I started writing. Now when I look back at some of the blogs that I had written back then, I find 7 in 10 sucked.

I would like to believe that there has been a certain degree of improvement since. I will let you be the judge of that.

Either way; part of the process of becoming a better writer involves delivering shitty posts. You need that practice to become better. You need to see how you can improve and continue to work on it consistently.

To be great at something you have to be willing to be bad at something first.

The trouble with the world today is that we expect excellence from the beginning. We expect to pass an exam (which are useless) on the first attempt. We expect to deliver the very best, the most flawless work in the first pass it. We expect never to fail. 

The only that you can deliver without failure is mediocrity. 

General Thinking

Discernable Difference

This blog will meander before it arrives at its point. Please play along.

When you see an image on a computer, it is produced by lighting up individual dots on the screen with a colour corresponding to its position. We call these dots pixels.

In the image above, the first image is 14 pixels per inch (PPI) or about 14 dots in every inch. We call this resolution.

If you consider the fourth and the fifth image, there is a 100% improvement in the number of pixels from 112 PPI to 224 PPI, but the improvement is hard to discern. While the resolution has improved 100%, it does not make a huge impact on the user. But if you were to compare the 28 PPI image with the 112 PPI image there is a 400% improvement and the improvement is hard to ignore.


Because the world we live in is so financially driven, we tend to assume that 20% upside is incredible. 20% return is insanely hard to achieve. We are wrong when we start to apply the same metric to try and measure all other things.

My offering is 20% better than what is already available in the market. Customers should just line up at my door to get what I have to offer!

We forget that for the person looking in from the outside; what you are offering is barely an improvement. Not to mention, if they already use something, there is a switching cost that they would have to bear on top of whatever your offering costs. So even if your cost is at parity with your competitor, you are probably more expensive.

I don’t know if you have to be 100% better or 1000% better; it just needs to be discernible.

From the image above, one thing is obvious. The lower the quality of competition around you, the easier it is to be discernably better with little effort. The difference between the first and second image is 100% and it is very apparent. The starting point is a very poor quality image. The same 100% is not good enough as the quality improves as in the last 2 images. It will take a lot more than 100%.

If you are starting a business or a creative project ask yourself or even just working at an organisation, ask yourself, am I offering better resolution? Is it discernible?

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I have started a space on Quora as well for those who wish to ask questions pertaining to the things that I write, you can visit the same here.

Also, follow me on Twitter @viveksrn to know when the newsletter drops.

What we think, we become ~ Buddha

You can follow my podcasts here.

General Thinking

Thoughtless Education

When I joined engineering, I thought that I would learn how to make things. I would learn how to engineer! Create that which never existed. My first year in engineering was spent relearning what I had already learnt over the past two years. More equations, formulae and ZERO application. As the years progressed, a depressing feeling started setting in. I was learning things that had been done, in certain cases 150 years ago. Also, I was nowhere close to creating anything new. Let alone the fact that I was not creating anything new, I could not even fix something broken.

A mechanical engineer is supposed to be able to make a car, I could not even fix a car.

Engineering had not turned out to be all that I had hoped it would be. 

Sick of engineering, I decided to take up an MBA. This time it was an American University. So I thought things would be different. That there would be something new to learn and creation will follow. Instead, I spent most of my time learning what someone else had thought or done. The arena was different – management thought, operations research, marketing, etc. The outcome was the same.

Even the case studies were empty exercises in guessing. It is the closest we came to facing the real world.

Our education the world over is about how someone else thought through a problem. Nobody ever bothers to teach us how we should approach a problem. Something new and unseen.

Just writing a blog and getting 500 people to subscribe can be an act of incredible problem solving and real creation! Can no MBA focus on something this simple over 2 years? But none of them does.

No matter how many times I explain to you how someone got on the saddle of a bike and rode it unless you yourself get on the saddle and figure out how to balance you will not learn it. You have to learn to solve that problem by solving it.

We just do not have enough thought about thought. No school or university teaches us how to think about a problem. They spend years and almost infinite capital trying to explain how others thought through a problem.

It serves them well. It creates nations of gross consumers rather than gross creators. 

I have started a space on Quora as well for those who wish to ask questions pertaining to the things that I write, you can visit the same here.

Also, follow me on Twitter @viveksrn to know when the newsletter drops.

What we think, we become ~ Buddha

You can follow my podcasts here.

General Thinking

Poverty Line

Two years ago, I read a book by Hans Rosling called Factfulness. It professes to show how the world is a lot better today than it has ever been. Bill Gates heavily recommended this book. 🙄

Hans takes a lot of trouble to find data that shows that the world is getting better every moment we breathe. One of the points that he brandishes is how many people have been pulled out of poverty over the last century alone.

And then I came across this tweet by a guy in whose country, it would be impossible to get even a cup of Americano for $1.25. A figure which is conveniently hidden in the heading of the graph.

I would like to find out if Erik or for that matter Hans or Bill would like to live the $1.25 a day lifestyle. I am sure if they hung themselves today, the electricity consumed by their households during that day would cost more than $1.25.

It is easy to argue that a lot of people are rising out of poverty when you artificially set the poverty line at such a low figure.

Find one person in any country who would be willing to put in an entire day’s work for $1.25. I am sure begging would be easier and would pay better.

In the US, the Poverty line is defined as $12,760 per year. That translates to $35 a day roughly. The arrogance to assume that the rest of the world should live at 1/20th that figure. Not to mention – you would be living out of a car if you made $12,760 a year in the US.

It would be hard if not impossible to live alone in any of the big cities in the US at $35 a day; if you happened to have a family you are finished.

But this relentless charade of books and articles about how many people have risen above the poverty line will keep appearing. It is important to make people feel like some world-changing good is happening. In the 1700s people of France realised that there were a select few getting away with all of the money and the rest were just suffering; they turned Place de la Concorde into ‘Chop-chop square’ and a new order was born.

The people pushing this rubbish have too much to lose. They will go to any lengths to keep it from happening.

Also, follow me on Twitter @viveksrn to know when the newsletter drops.

What we think, we become ~ Buddha

You can follow my podcasts here.

General Thinking

Looking Forward

You can drive a car looking at the rearview mirror, the outcome would not be one that you are going to be pleased with. 

We all lose things in life. Often at that moment, it seems like the hardest thing to go through. You might fail an exam; you may sink your business; you may lose love, or your loved one might pass away. No matter how catastrophic the event, the only option that ultimately delivers is looking ahead. 

Some people choose to look backwards constantly and feel sorry for themselves. Without a doubt, depending on the kind of person you are, there are only two destinations this leads to – depression or suicide. 

Looking forward allows you to focus not on what was lost but on what greater things lie ahead. 

Don’t mistake me, I do not mean to say that one should not feel any sorrow, anger, frustration and myriad other negative emotions; but one should avoid wallowing in it forever.

In life, I have come across two kinds of people.

First, those who look through the windshield and keep moving forward. Second, those who look through the windshield momentarily; only to go back to what is lost to the rear-view mirror.  Often their lives are determined by the attitude they chose to foster.

Always look forward. Always move ahead.

Also, follow me on Twitter @viveksrn to know when the newsletter drops.

What we think, we become ~ Buddha

You can follow my podcasts here.

General Thinking

Social Contract

It was in the mid-1700s that Benjamin Franklin proposed that a firefighter service be established in Philadelphia. This was unique to the city at the time and was paid for eventually by the residents of the city. To overcome the occurrence of weather-related fires, Franklin also invented a device that saved a lot of lives – the lightning rod.

It took an agreement amongst the people of the society that made up Philadelphia to setup this force. It was a social contract.

Should roads be built through collective funds for collective use or should it be privately built by those who can afford to?

Should everyone have access to legal recourse?

Should the lives and property of people who live in society be protected?

Questions such as these and many others, we take for granted. We do not even think of having a police force or not, as a choice. These are institutionalised to such an extent that they are just taken for granted.

On the other hand

Should education be made available to those who can afford it or should it be made available to all?

Should healthcare be available to only those who can afford it or should it be available to all?

Should those who have lost their jobs be protected by the state to a certain extent through doles? Or is it just life?

Should we allow those who are not able to find a secure life in their countries, come to ours and build a life? Or do we just want those who will make us richer?

Should provide pension to senior citizens who have retired and worked their entire lives to grow the economy, so their lives remain secure?

The answer to these and many other questions such as these form the social contract that we enter into as societies. Most of these social contracts are then translated into laws or policies. Laws being far more binding and policies being a lot more fluid. The hope is to translate policies into law.

We vote those who offer policies that are in line with the social contract we wish our nation and society to adhere to. Often there are going to be pros and cons to each stance and as a society, we need to figure out if the pros outweigh the cons or vice-versa. Even so, we may not always agree. The problem arises when a group of people only see pros and no cons vis-a-vis another stance.

Should gay people be allowed to pursue their lives just as anyone else would?

In a discussion such as this, you will often find binary views. This is a reflection of the fact that society as a whole has not matured evenly or the views of one group of people have evolved at a very different pace to another. This can be rather dangerous and polarising in nature. This has the potential to create the – Us against them – dynamic. Even more importantly this is where the social contract breaks down.

There are far too many issues on which these kinds of conversations can be seen across the world, across political systems and spectrums. Hopefully, society can find a way to look at these issues as shades of grey rather than black and white.

This is critical for a democracy to thrive. If not, the fissures that we see today can turn into chasms.