Learning by Proxy

Quality of Life

Recently while listening to a podcast by Morgan Housel he made the point that in 1920 John Rockefeller was worth as much as 3% of the US GDP. That is like someone being worth USD 700 Billion today. Just for your reference, that is like the wealth of Bernard Arnault, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffet and Lary Ellison put together.

clear hour glass beside pink flowers
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

But even with all that money at his disposal, he did not have Sunscreen, Tylenol, Anti-biotics, Chemotherapy, Vaccines for smallpox, Insulin for Diabetes, fresh produce in the winter, TV, overseas phone calls, Jets and the list goes on.

The average person can enjoy so much more today than the richest man could a hundred years ago.

This is a well-worn argument used by rich people to show how great the lives of poor people are today.


He also did not have Ozone Hole, antibiotic-resistant diseases, mutating viruses that can three waves of pandemics, AIDS, the obesity epidemic, the diabetes epidemic, processed food that is no good for your health, an inability to enjoy empty unstructured time, climate change, and I am sure the list goes on as well.

It is convenient to paint the world on a constant march forward because of everything that we have. Life was not that inconvenient before these conveniences showed up. It was simpler and arguably better. Only a person who has thrown away their phones and lived in a rural outpost would know.

Everything that we call convenience is the trapping of the modern world that makes you want more and more. The only thing that it successfully gives you is mental illness.

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

Hidden Cost of COVID

I have a near and dear one who would probably be helped a great deal by having the entire range of healthcare solutions being made available. But due to age and fear of contracting COVID, the individual has not visited the hospital for over a month now despite symptoms. 

According to WHO Cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of death globally claiming over 17.9 Million lives each year. Globally, cancer is responsible for 1 in 6 deaths, taking more than 10 million lives each year. India alone records over 62 million cases of diabetes each year and over 1 million deaths caused by it. Each year more than a million people die due to cardiovascular diseases and close to a Million due to Cancer.

Diagnosing the Unknown

There are going to be thousands, perhaps millions of older people who need a diagnosis for heart ailments, cancer and many other diseases. A large number of them would be avoiding visiting the hospital unless absolutely necessary. With many diseases, early diagnosis makes the difference between 10 more years or 10 more months left to live. 

The absence of diagnosis is a horrible consequence of the current situation. In some cases, it may just go undiagnosed till rather late.

Checking the known

Almost all elective surgeries have been postponed the world over due to the current pandemic. Many of these delays are going to eventually prove costly especially if the condition is degenerative in nature. 

The world is witnessing a spate of celebrity deaths and I am certain that the lockdown has most certainly contributed to their death. They would have perhaps had more regular check-ups and issues could have been spotted. 

Hidden Economic Death

In India when the lockdown was announced, I called it a war against poverty. A war where the poor end up dead and leads to fewer poor. As the migrants have made their way through this vast country many have died due to accidents and starvation. There is again no count for the number of lives lost this way. 

These are lives that COVID will take in the coming months without even infecting these individuals. 

Truth be told, nobody is accounting for these lives lost and perhaps this will outnumber the lives lost due to COVID.

General Thinking














We all crave some or all of these things in varying capacities. Almost none of us get all of it at the same time.

Human tendency is to focus on what we have lost which makes us all bent towards loss aversion.

If someone told you there was a 5% chances of death during a surgery, you would not want to go ahead. If the same thing is projected as 95% of success, you do. We are afraid of losing and we focus on what we have lost rather than what we have not.

So in the list above if you find anything that is not at a level you would like it to be, leave that aside and focus on all the other things that are at a level you would like them to be.

It is not worth even a moment of negative thought because what you have will always far outweigh what you don’t.

General Thinking

First Times

One of the things that is true about human nature is that our ability to face a situation improves if we have  faced such a situation already.

The first time you change your job, you find the transition a lot harder than thereafter.

If a family has had a case of cancer once, their ability to deal with another member suffering it is much improved.

The first child is always an experiment. Parents don’t worry as much about the second child and the second child also benefits from the best practices learnt from the first.

As an entrepreneur you have to deal with many first times. Keep them coming thick and fast. Face the unknowns as soon as possible. It won’t be the last time you will face it.

Straight ‘A’ students are highly disadvantaged in the real world. A life where you have never faced a calamity, a failure, a disaster leaves you ill-prepared to face it.

Some day you will have to face it, probability has a way of catching up!