As far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a space scientist. An astrophysicist to be precise.
My immediate and extended world knew of my dreams. That of doing my PhD from the US and working at NASA.
And in 2002 I left for the US. To pursue my PhD. From Michigan State University – whose program was a top one in the country. They had a cyclotron (a real one, yes!) and we’re to commission a radio telescope later that year. I was given a 100% tuition fee waiver and an extremely generous stipend to cover my expenses.
A year into the program I was on top of my class. Was working with one of the smartest and driven professors in the team. My peers were fun, intelligent, accommodating.
Life was good.
Just that, it wasn’t.
I was good at what I was doing. But I wasn’t happy.
I figured that a PhD in astrophysics would mean staying in the US for the rest of my life.
Coming back to India would not be an option.
Because India would never have meaningful work for an ambitious, hardworking, diligent Ankur Warikoo.
Back in 2003, I predicted that for the REST OF MY LIFE, India would not have anything meaningful for me.
And I came back (undoubtedly the best decision of my life – but that’s another story)
In the past few years, I have been (secretly) tracking the work that ISRO is doing.
Last week they sent 104 mini satellites into orbit in a single launch – a world record.
And I love how each time they do awesome work, and I read about it in the press, all I can see is this
Don’t ever say that the world is not ready for what you wish to do.
That the world needs to change
Because The one that needs to change is the man in the mirror.
Thank you ISRO for showing me how wrong I was, through the best manner possible – your success.
Note to self: The world doesn’t need our stamp of approval. It needs our participation.
I spent almost the entire past weekend trying to resolve a conflict at work. I knew I had to intervene to solve it. I had to take charge. Fix it. Make sure the problem was solved and not just the situation.
It seems the conflict did get resolved.
It seems I had some role to play in it.
All that I did was listened.
Listened for more than 9 hours – both sides – independently.
Nodding my head, because I agreed with most of what was being said.
Shaking my head within, shocked at how similar the views were, how similar the objectives were and yet the two sides felt they were at the opposite end of the diameter.
I didn’t offer any advice
I didn’t share my opinion
I simply listened
Finally got them into a room, share my inference of the situation in 5 mins and allowed them to talk.
This time around they were clearer in their communication, focused on the end goal, empathetic towards the other side. Wiser from the experience, it seems.
They felt heard, understood, I would like to believe.
This weekend, I played the role of a founder.
When I listened. And helped sides see each other.
All other days, I am just another guy. Looking for someone similar. Someone who would listen.
Being heard and understood is the most understated feeling in the world.
Being the one who listens and understands is the hardest role in the world.
And as a founder, you will experience both. No choice.
People stand in line for hours when an iPhone launches, to be one of the first to buy
Women tend to express their emotions better than men
Research suggests that high EQ is a better indicator of success
Squatting is one of the fastest cardio ways to burn fat
Driving a car in the first gear leads to higher fuel consumption
All completely unrelated statements.
All statements that we know of or perhaps have read about somewhere
Maybe Facebook (fuck!)
How many of us stopped to say the golden word?
Why do people stand in line? Why do women operate that way? Why is EQ important? Why does squatting help? Why does the first gear even exist then?
Why is the world the way it is
If you are not a fervent truth seeker, you are simply accepting the world’s definition as yours.
Don’t stop at the why until the why can’t be broken down further.
Because the quality of your life is determined by the quality of your questions
Imagine an angry mail written to you
Imagine a conversational fight you are in the middle of
Imagine an individual being mean to you
Imagine a situation that requires you to react
At that moment, your instant feeling and thus your instant reaction – is conclusively the wrong one.
It’s the hardwiring of evolution that tells us to attack back when attacked. That’s how mankind has survived.
And while the threats have been less threatening, the damage has become less damaging, the nature of the attack is mostly not even personal, we still react as if to win the war.
Whenever you are reacting towards a situation where you have been attacked, do yourself a favor and DONT react the way you instantly feel like react.
Pick any other reaction except the first one.
The first reaction is our basic instinct taking over.
Drop the first reaction. You will always emerge first because of that.
IQ was what got the previous generation to succeed. Mostly.
In today’s world of distraction, instant gratification, unlimited access and boundless opportunities – your ability to focus is what will make you stand out.
Focus is the new IQ
Here is the deal about focus
It’s spelled as “consistency”
The irony of today’s world is that everything is instantaneous and yet the time that it will take and the discipline it will require to be sucessful, hasn’t shortened one bit. Infact might have increased.
If one is not consistent – in their thoughts, in their actions, in their conduct and their drive to learn – focus will only be limited to a 5-letter word.
What you know doesn’t mean shit. What is it that you do consistently? ??
Smart people and nice people think their smartness and niceness diminishes each time they say no to someone.
They believe they are saying no to their own capability of helping.
To their own ability to solve.
What we rarely realize is that the art of saying no is the highest level of respect you can bestow onto yourself.
Each time we say no, we chose what’s important as against what’s urgent (or worst still what’s pleasing others)
Each time we say no, we make ourselves vulnerable to the world’s narrative of ourselves. And we accept it
Each time we say no, we say yes to things that matter. That move us forward.
I get asked for help more than I deserve, on a daily basis.
For funding, mentoring, ISB help, speaking sessions.
And I have a polite template for saying no to most of them.
Not because I don’t want to help.
Because I can’t.
Because there are other things that take precedence. That I have signed up for. That I am already on.
It shocks me how so many people show an absolute disregard to their time and allow others to step on it at will.
They will pick up stuff and crib about it. Projecting they were somehow forced or tricked into it.
But it’s always our choice.
True success is not how much time you spend doing what you love.
It’s how little time you spend doing what you hate.
I have a “problem”
I have been trained to think that everything is a consequence of me. I am the source of the current situation. My thoughts, my actions led to what we are witnessing, especially if it’s bad.
I may not admit it all the time, but within I am already cursing myself. Scrutinizing myself. Killing myself.
It is hard being this way. But I don’t know any better. This approach keeps me honest and keeps me up. All the time.
Here is the deal with being honest with one’s own self.
Most of us don’t do it.
It’s so easy to blame others.
It’s so easy to blame external circumstances.
It’s so easy to think that something else led to this. Something we didn’t control. We did the best we could.
Because this approach makes us think we are still good enough
And good enough helps us sleep well at night
The next time something bad happens, start by assuming you are responsible. This is different from blaming yourself, where you will play the victim and console yourself.
Make yourself responsible. What is it that you did that led you to this. Did it make sense? Was it right after all? Could there have been an alternate approach?
Could you be the one that needs to change, and not the world?
If you run into an asshole in the morning, you ran into an asshole.
If you ran into assholes all day, you are the asshole
Yesterday at lunch with two super smart startup founders, we got talking about their pitch deck.
Pitch decks are super fun. I look at the nearbuy pitch deck every other week – trying to make it clearer, sharper, more succinct. And surprisingly find obvious ways of doing so, that weren’t so obvious before.
I told them – your first slide should be declaring who you are.
And you should be ok with it. Ok with what you you have written. Ok with who you have projected yourself to be. Ok with who you are.
That set me thinking. If you had pitch decks, what would your first slide say?
Would the world get it?
Would they see the same image when they meet you in person?
Would they agree with it?
Would you be comfortable with it?
The first slide of our pitch deck should be what we wish to tell the world. Not what the world wishes to hear.
Two emails – selling something to me – eyeing for my attention
Which one will get a response?
Which one went through more effort to write?
Which one will continue putting in the effort, despite the response rate?
If we don’t respond too well to lazy work, what makes us think that the world will respond well to ours?
Which one will you be today?
I am privileged that a lot of people write in seeking help.
What shocks me, consistently, is how few of them know what help they need
My standard response to most emails is my favorite question
“How can I help”
Here is the truth
No one will figure out how they can be useful for you. You have to do it for them, if you need them.
How can I help?
The question you need an answer to, before you seek help
Help doesn’t come from a spray and pray approach. That’s advice, you are mistaking it for.
People will help you only when you have helped them understand how they can.
Self driving cars
I am amazed at the pace with which this industry is being transformed. There isn’t any month where an incredible video doesn’t surface – from different companies – showcasing real life implementation.
Without knowing much about the technology – here is an admission I would still make.
It isn’t possible that everyone started to build this at the same time for us to see so much action happen simulataneously.
Instead, it seems that “someone discovered” that self driving cars was a possibility. And then the best brains lept at it to prove that they were the best brains.
Mankind gained from this competition, as a consequence.
The tools had existed. For a long time. And very few people bothered to look beyond.
Until one of them did.
And then competition took over.
The race to build something better and before led to attention towards the algorithm that could take over the tool.
And before we knew it – tools had become redundant.
The steps towards progress are clear
People. Tools. Algorithm.
Don’t stop at tools. That’s progress half done.
I signed up for Amy at x.ai last week. Had been resisting it for a while, not sure why. On paper it’s the tech I should jump at.
An artificial intelligence based calendar scheduler.
Oh. My. God.
The first few conversations were awkward. Especially marking her on an email with real people. Asking for her help to reschedule.
Slowly she began her magic. Replying to my requests
can you share full address of Sector 29 market, or you know the place. I want to make sure the two of you don’t miss each other
I replied with a “know the place”
At lunch day before (incidentally setup by Amy) my friend remarked
It matters how we speak to the AI tech today. Because that’s how they will talk to us tomorrow.
Last night I received the first week email from x.ai
It’s best to be clear and polite. If you think of Amy as a human assistant, you can’t really go wrong
We now have a responsibility
How we talk to AI today is how the world will talk to each other tomorrow
Customer service is a hard thing. Especially in India. The Indian consumer is one of the most demanding, and I would argue the most threatening as well.
It’s amazing how high the percentage is of customers emails to us that threaten to go to the consumer courts on their very first interaction. They haven’t even heard us out – but assume we don’t mean well. That’s why the threat.
It’s not personal. I now call it natural. It’s been hard wired in the consumers mindset.
And here is the biggest reason
For years, organizations including and especially the government have dealt us a bad hand. We have had to fight for our consumer rights. Rights as a taxpayer. Rights as a buyer of products and services.
So now our natural mode has become the fight.
Worse still, organizations have mastered the art of offering explanations for their actions.
“We apologize for the inconvenience this may have caused”
No cool company
Don’t hint towards the fact that you MAY have caused any inconvenience. You DID!
Don’t apologize and be fancy about it. Say sorry. And MEAN IT.
Speak just as you normally would. You know, human speak
And DONT GIVE A WHY
Solve the problem.
Because guess what – the why may be right. The why may be true. The why may be genuine.
But the customer doesn’t give a fuck about the why.
They care about how you are going to help him. Not why this happened.
Templates have allowed customer service to scale. They are now able to be less empathetic and more robotic to a lot more people than before.
I continue to be shocked by how little people invest in their personal development.
I bet there are more people with mutual fund SIPs than people who read 1 book every year.
Part of it is of course intent.
But the sheer number of people who wish to make a change but are unable to do so, if baffling.
My observation is that people don’t know how best to learn. Content and experiences are available to us in multiple modes. But our ability to absorb isn’t as diverse.
In my opinion, there are 4 modes to learn
We all react differently to each of these. Never mind the reasons.
Infact, we don’t react the same way all the time. For different lessons, our best learning mode may alter. Should alter.
The best way to drive may not be through reading.
But the best way to learn to code could be.
The other important distinction is between learning and getting better.
“The best way to learn is to do it” is the worst possible advice ever.
Sure, the best way to get better is to do it. But the learning, the foundation, the basis – cannot always be by doing.
Go back in time and we all will realize the number of occasions when we have succumbed to the “let me just start doing it and I will learn”.
We ended up getting bored or feeling inadequate and gave up.
So next time you wish to invest in a new skill
Play around with the learning modes. Give sometime to each. You may figure something else works better than what you thought.
Resist the urge to get into it right away before learning the base.
The best learners know that they need to be a different person each time they learn.
I sang more than 500 songs this year – and eventually recorded 30+. Might showcase some of them publicly for feedback
Wrote 197 blog posts
However, medium didnt do so well for me, which is a big disappointment. I really like the medium and one of my goals for 2017 is to move my blog from wordpress to Medium.
Instead, I shifted my focus to Linkedin and ended up writing over 50 posts there. Generated over 250,000 views
Quora continued well – logged a crazy 3.8Mn views this year!
Had 172 lunches with nearbuy colleagues – some unreal, unbelievable stories – some genuinely passionate and driven people – some inspiring to the hilt – some happy to the extent of being contagious.
Could manage only 4 vacations this year, much to the dismay of Ruchi. At a personal level, I worry that my need for a vacation seems to have completely gone.
Followed this for 2 weeks, I assume. And then was back to my normal self. This is an area where I have genuinely failed. However, one thing that I decided to follow was not bring my laptop home during the weekdays. Everyday I simply come back – not carry stuff back. One may argue that has increased my phone time once home, but not having the laptop does make a big difference.
When you are not practicing, someone else is. And when you meet each other, they will win.
This paranoia drove me in 2016. I double down-ed on the practice. To prepare for the right time, not knowing when it will come. Not worrying about it either.
This list is a compilation of the content pieces that stood out for me, in 2016. That helped me in the practice.
All this content was discovered by me in 2016. They could be (and most likely are) from an earlier year
One of the best books of 2016. Suddenly a lot of the things you observe everyday, but never question, start to make sense. Loved the parts about money and religion, particularly.
Hands down – the book of the year for me. It came at a time when I needed to read about this journey. Absolutely brilliant – a must read for every entrepreneur.
During Feb-Mar this book explained to me a lot about why I was feeling what I was feeling, and more importantly how to deal with it. Entrepreneurs – do yourself a favor and pick this one up.
Explains the science of happiness better than anything else I have ever read. Much needed read, especially in today’s world of instant gratification and endless distraction.
The genius of this book cannot be expressed in words. If you believe in numbers and naturally gravitate towards them, this is the first book you should read. Hopefully the last you will ever need.
This book is like the matrix. No one can be told what the matrix is. One has to see it for themselves. Read this book. Please.
The title can be misleading – this isnt your run-of-the-mill self help shit. This book made sense – every page of it.
The simplicity of this much recommended book truly moved on. I haven’t read a lot of philosophy in life, but can argue that this book gives good reason to read more about life.
Brilliant book on how to drive organizational change, why its so hard and how you can effectively measure. For all managers and founders – this is a gem!
When in doubt, refer to the bible! Read this book almost everyday – a random page opened before I started my day. And each time it answered a question, as if it knew what I wanted an answer to.
2016 was the year of video for me. I consumed video like a maniac – shunned TV completely.
THE LAB: DECOY – A portrait session with a twist
Something I have always believed in, as a photographer – the actual subject is behind the lens
Why we should go to Mars
This is my prescription for whenever I am down. These 4 minutes defined a lot of my sentiments for 2016. Its nout about today – everything is about tomorrow.
10 ways to have a better conversation | Celeste Headlee
The simplest way to describe human conversations. So forgotten in today’s era. I am firm believer that in the future the single biggest success parameter will be the ability to communicate. This video starts that inner dialogue.
Paper Boat presents Rizwan
This video became the benchmark for storytelling – at a brand level and at a personal level.
People relate to individuals, not to news.
Simon Sinek on Millennials in the Workplace
Simon Sinek strikes again. And he is even more brilliant than before. If the Golden Circle explained why organizations are successful, this one explained how individuals can be.
Grace VanderWaal: 12-Year-Old Ukulele Player Gets Golden Buzzer – America’s Got Talent 2016
I was addicted to “Got Talent” youtube videos – recall watching every single golden buzzer video one random weekend. But this one stayed. It just stayed.
Elon Musk almost crying
Fuck, this broke my heart. And told me the honest truth. No change was ever brought about by keeping everyone happy.
Sachin A Billion Dreams | Official Teaser | Sachin Tendulkar
Just for that one line in the trailer. Just for that – this video will always stay with me. Just for that.
What Will You Stand For? – Motivational Les Brown Tribute
10 mins of absolute motivation. Loved every second of it.
Dasht-e-Tanhai. Meesha Shafi
This video defined music for me – the lyrics, the voice, the melody, the rhythm – everything is magical.
Am not going to describe them – instead strongly encourage you to read all of them
These are the most popular blogposts of mine for this year
This year truly tested me.
It started with a massive high – we had pulled off a remarkable Management Buyout in 2015, closed the year with the best sales ever and entered Jan 2016 with spirits and energy at the highest levels possible.
And then it struck!
The investment scenario had turned upside down. Funding dried up.
We were running out of money. And we had to ensure the company wasnt jeopardized because of the decisions I had taken. So we decided to go back to first principles of business and also conserve all the cash that we could.
Which meant taking some really hard decisions.
I felt responsible for all of it – for every job lost, for every benefit withdrawn, for every insecure face I encountered, for all the times I tried to pep things up but felt I was lying to my own self.
I WAS responsible for all of it – the low morale, the skepticism, the “you brought this onto us” look.
Admitting this, even publicly, wasn’t going to be enough.
I began to record my feelings. Everyday to work, I spoke to myself – expressly freely what I felt. It helped relieve the emotions, but it wasn’t enough
I had to get myself back. In order to get nearbuy back.
On one such recording sessions, I asked myself, “fuck, how is it that I fucked up so bad? So so bad? I was happy a month back, and now I struggle to find a reason to be so. As if I have forgotten what it felt like to be at peace”
And I thought…
Would it help to go back to that world? That moment when I was truly at peace with myself. What is it that I used to tell myself then? Maybe that would help?
So I spent the next week, wading through my content from the past. Blogposts, Quora, Linkedin, Facebook, Emails, Notes.
And it helped a lot. I found patterns. In my thoughts, my emotions, my words.
Patterns that I figured might help me get back on track.
And one of the content stayed with me.
My resolution for 2016, one of which was
Record at least 10 cover songs in my voice
I wondered why I had resolved to sing?
I wasnt a good singer. And was extremely shy of singing in front of public.
In the tough period of Feb-Mar, I couldnt remember what drove me to sign up for singing as a 2016 resolution.
So I decided to give it a shot, almost desperate for a solution.
And magic happened
Horrible at first
Tolerable by now
But I didnt care
I made it a ritual. Everyday after lunch, I used to walk on the office lawns, earplugs and sing to myself.
Invariably I would end up crying everytime, as I sang
The emotions didnt stop.
The healing didnt either.
I would look forward to driving, because then I could sing.
I would record what I felt were my best renditions.
Share it, not for feedback, but as as sign that I was coming back.
All I wanted to do everyday was to sing
In a month, I knew that this tough phase, while real, will not consume me. I will not allow it to consume me.
By April, I had myself back.
The act of singing, feeling my entire body emote to the melody, the lyrics, rhythm – made me go back to my original self.
The self that wanted to be free, to find meaning in my actions, to feel happy with my judgement, to stand by my thoughts.
The act of singing made me connect with my own self, more than writing, or photography.
Over the past 10 months, I have sang more than 500 songs.
The act of singing saved me in 2016
The year has been the hardest I have ever faced. It taught me the importance of making people feel secure, the importance of will, the power of faith and perseverance
and above all, it taught me that the only person who can ever know you well, is your own self.
I became my best friend
Nowadays, we hang out together, singing :)
At toll booths, boom barriers reflect the behavior of most organizations out there.
Employees approach with ideas, advancements, experiments, wild bets at the toll booth.
Someone, supposedly capable but mostly simply a checker, is siting. Accepts some form of exchange – money in real world, ideas, presentations, data in organizations.
And the boom barrier is raised. Allowing for the employee to go past.
Before lowering itself again for the next employee.
Day in and day out – the same “process”. Multiple booths, multiple checkers, multiple employees. But all allowed one a time.
And then someone decided to introduce tags.
Something you do (upfront payment in the real world) fetches you a badge. Where you don’t seek permission anymore. The boom barrier is never lowered on you. Till you keep paying that payment.
Unfortunately, just as real world, less than 5% of the universe eve gets this tag. 95% still go through this painful sequential process.
It’s ironical – the toll road was built for a speedy, unrestricted passage. And then someone, to establish importance and authority, choked the system at the toll booth.
As a founder/CEO/manager – while you constantly aim to build toll roads, ask yourself how many toll booths are you also adding.
What will it take to give everyone a tag?
What will you give up? And what will you gain?
Does your organization really need a boom barrier?
Interviewed a super smart woman last evening. She is a visual designer. And while her work spoke for her talent and finesse, what stood out was an honest admission towards the end
“Creativity doesn’t come naturally to me. I have to work really hard for it. It’s unlike the movies where one sit and creativity starts flowing”
I have spoken in the past about the difference between geniuses and artists. This conversation reminded me of the same.
Most talent in this world isn’t inborn. It isn’t natural. It has to be worked upon. Because it’s necessary for your definition of success.
The ones that come across as supremely talented are ironically the ones that believe they still have a long way to go.
People need to feel secure
In their relationships
At their workplace
People need to be told “I will watch out for you”
When times are bad
When times are good
People want to know that if they show up and give their 100%, they will grow as will the company
So far I had felt that security was a bad thing. It brought with itself entitlement. Complacency. Mediocrity.
This year told me that security meant being human.