You Are Beer, Not a Colorful Beanbag

What are you?

What do you mean, what am I?

You are beer. And this bottle, is your company. You think, you’ll get into that glass. You’ll have fun. Isn’t it? But look at this [trying to pour the capped bottle in the glass]. Can you see? You actually don’t want to leave the bottle. For the beer to get into the glass, it needs to leave the bottle first. Once you’re out of the bottle, then you can get into any glass you want. In this glass, if you want. Or you can get into this glass. Even in this glass..

It’s a wine glass.

How the hell do you know that? You are beer.

tvf-pitchers-tu-beer-hai

This conversation opens the cap to the protagonist’s entrepreneurial flow in Pitchers, a web series aptly named as a frisky notion of friends drinking pitchers of beer while discussing their startup pitches.

Despite my absence from blog writing due to the slothful comfort-zone of ‘sound bite sized’ tweets and a disgraceful decline in long-form effort, I’m hoping to find time and reclaim my desire for musings and rants, partly thanks to my sister who recommended that I watch Tripling, another web series from the same outfit about siblings on a road trip.

What nudged me, and resonated with me about these web series’ created by the team at a digital media startup — The Viral Fever (TVF), is not just the content, but also the creator. They’re real, honest and funny. At a time when original content from the likes of Netflix is disrupting digital media as well as the appetite of a binging audience, TVF is creating interestingly fresh content and building a monetizable platform in the form of TVF Play for other creators to leverage.

TVF is an interesting venture in itself. Its founder, Arunabh, an IIT alumnus, had worked on a drone image processing project for the US Air Force, before realizing that probably he is ‘beer’, capable of a different sort of envisioning. In a chat on the Founding Fuel channel, he had some interesting views to share on entrepreneurship:

The desire [of starting-up] was stronger to prove myself right, than prove others wrong.

I have a very counter-intuitive opinion [on your office being a workplace or a fun place].. I don’t think offices have become fun or become cooler because of colorful beanbags, that’s the worst thing that Google did.. everybody thinks that it’s a great culture.. it’s not. Culture is not defined by beanbags in any office.. in-fact our office is a great balance of formal and informal environment, and if you take any of that out, it will fall like a pack of cards. We don’t believe that if we’ll be having fun and we’ll be smoking up, we’ll be getting great ideas.. the ways of working have been misconstrued and defined very wrongly. When somebody walked into this office and said that writing is my passion, then dude I don’t really need to make my place fun to make you passionate about your passion.. in-fact the litmus test would be that I should be throwing you into one cave and still you’d be writing because it’s your passion.. so we would rather have people who anyway know what’s fun for them is doing the work that they love, then that’s it, we don’t need to have colorful beanbags.

I read somewhere.. the only three things certain in life are death, taxes and competition. I feel that competition is a good thing.. competition always keeps you on your toes.. competition shows that you’re not the only guy playing the game. The big guys aspire.. and have our name in their PPT’s, so I think that’s a great thing to be proud of. So there are two ways to live life, there’s an abundance mentality and there’s a scarcity mentality. Scarcity would be that there are only so many brand, so let’s try do something, otherwise there’s competition, what will happen. And then there’s an abundance mentality that humanity could have survived without Apple devices, and Apple is the most valuable company in this world. Humanity didn’t need Apple devices, but the guy believed in it, and the company believed in it, and then the entire team thought that let’s make something awesome that everybody would want to own it.. so I think when you come with that abundance mentality, then there’s so much of money and so many opportunities to have that the universe is waiting for you to give it something, so that it will give you that sort of wealth.. so I never consider competition.

We need to keep disrupting ourselves. I wrote some 5-7 rules, when I started.. one of the rules was that we should be doing one scary thing every three months, and if we’re not doing it, then we’re not really moving in that direction. When expectations increase.. you become cautious, and experiments fail and succeed, but you get unpredictable result only when you experiment. I feel that if we’re able to imbibe disruption as a habit, then that’s something which will sail us through.

What do you do to make a community.. you just make great product. I think there’s no shortcut to that.. and you just have fun with it.. and that will resonate. If ever I could write a thesis on the whole definition of “cool”, coolness is nothing but anything that has shocked, and given shock & awe to people, and that when starts to get accepted, becomes cool. When it becomes slightly mainstream, it stops being cool.. so there’s a very fine line between the birth of something cool and the death of something cool. A very good line comes to my mind, from Dark Knight, which says, `either you die and become a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become a villain.’

Will You Take $100 Now or $200 in a Month?

Last month, Professor Andrei Linde, who’s said to be the father of the theory of cosmic inflation, was surprised by his assistant with the ‘smoking gun’ evidence of the origins of the universe. After having waited over 30 years, the new proof (of gravitational waves from the Big Bang) supports his idea that the universe expanded extremely quickly after it was born.

Celebrating the breakthrough, Professor Linde made an interesting remark:

If this is true, this is a moment of understanding of nature, of such a magnitude that it just overwhelms, and let’s see, let just hope that is not a trick. I always live with this feeling, what if I’m tricked. What if I believe into this just because it is beautiful. It is helpful to have events like that. It’s really really helpful.

His comment resonates with me more due to my continuing thought about the importance of ‘measuring before perceiving‘. How will a theory ever become a discovery if we don’t measure the cause and effect? Without measuring, it will all be a hypothesis, an assumption.

For most people, it’s easy to fall into the trap of justifying their ideas, beliefs and decisions if they’re based on external influences (viz. mostly Herd mentality), or even instinct. While gut instincts may work at times, they don’t always entail the complete picture, or even the real picture, mostly because our brain is playing tricks and blinding us with cognitive biases more often than we realize.

If we don’t measure the past performance and current state, we can’t ascertain a baseline for comparison (which is an important motivational benchmark), and we can’t gather enough heuristics to make an informed decision about the future actions for improvement.

Most people want to make more money, but how often do they start that process by measuring their spending?

People who are busy (or think they are) want to save time and be more productive, but do they first assess their daily activities?

Everyone wants to lose weight, but do we regularly evaluate our body (weight, waist, BMI etc.), monitor exercise intensity or maintain a food diary?

This form of measurement, also known as personal analytics or self-tracking, is the first and most important step in understanding the reasons behind most pitfalls, whether they are personal, interpersonal, professional or even social. It may sound prophetic, even illuminating with a slight spiritual connotation, but data can talk and help see the bigger picture, only if we’re prepared to tune-in and observe the ordinarily hidden sentiments.

A recurring phenomenon I’ve noticed, common to most desires of change (be it in terms of wealth, time management, weight loss or something else), that adversely affects our ability to improve, is the concept of instant gratification. In simple terms, it’s the tendency for people to want an immediate pay-off rather than a larger gain later on. Most people would rather take $100 now than $200 in a month. Likewise, most people would rather buy something fancy and expensive now than something affordable on a special occasion, or, eat a chocolate cake now than on the weekend after a week of exercise and healthy diet. A general argument against it is that life is short, we work hard and we should enjoy the ‘small things’ now than wait; but growing levels of debt, obesity and lost productivity in today’s world indicates otherwise. The fact is that urban societies are becoming growingly and impulsively self-indulgent, without completely considering the long-term ramifications. ‘High life’ is becoming the new Pied Piper for many.

In his counter-intuitive and insightful book, ‘Wait: The Art and Science of Delay’, author Frank Partnoy weaves together findings from hundreds of scientific studies and interviews with wide-ranging experts to craft a picture of effective decision-making that runs counter to our brutally fast-paced and complex world.

Even as technology exerts new pressures to speed up our lives, it turns out that the choices we make –– unconsciously and consciously, in time frames varying from milliseconds to years –– benefit profoundly from delay. Taking control of time and slowing down our responses yields better results in almost every arena of life … even when time seems to be of the essence.

Having said that, if we constantly delay a pleasure, we miss the entire point of delayed gratification.

Footnote: During the past few months, I’ve been self-tracking various aspects of my life and work. It may be too early to call it a breakthrough, but it has resulted in better understanding, resultant changes and some clear signs of improvement. I’ve started using a few unobtrusive, yet insightful, analytical tools in areas like time tracking (with RescueTime), personal finance (with Pocketbook) and cash flow/financial forecasting (with an Excel spreadsheet based on ZetaBee Cash Flow). I’ve also been looking for a simple and intuitive daily goals & mood tracker mobile app (something like Habit List or Strides, but for Android, so drop a message if you know one. Updated 24 August: using Trackthisforme and also found Habit Domino).

Don’t Stop Talking About Your Ideas

A tweet this morning pointed to an article titled “Stop talking about your brilliant startup idea!“, in which a fellow Melbournian writes (in summary):

Nobody cares about your idea.

Stop talking to your friends about your ideas.

Stop talking to customers about your ideas.

Stop telling me your ideas.

As harsh as that may sound, there is a better reason to “stop talking.” There’s plenty of scientific evidence on the notion of secrecy, which shows that people who talk about their intentions are less likely to make them happen. Derek Sivers wrote about it a few years back:

Once you’ve told people of your intentions, it gives you a “premature sense of completeness.”

You have “identity symbols” in your brain that make your self-image. Since both actions and talk create symbols in your brain, talking satisfies the brain enough that it “neglects the pursuit of further symbols.”

Having said that, I also think that “nourishment” of ideas has merit. Talking about ideas early-on, yet informally, is a form of “rubber ducking” that forces one to explain their thoughts to others. It not only helps in garnering feedback and involving like-minded collaborators, but it also helps in refining the concept in one direction or another. Such informal discussion, starting at 17th century coffee houses in particular, has been playing an important role in the cultural, social and intellectual advancements since The Renaissance.

The Ottoman empire expanded throughout Europe in the 17th century. From Vienna came the idea of a place where men could meet and discuss various topics over coffee or tea (Viennese coffee house culture). Adapted to Western culture, the Turkish “coffee cafes” became the place where friends met for a drink. The tradition of the Agora was moved from the public square to the center city cafe. Philosophers, poets, writers, and intellectuals of all types made these places their new meeting places. (source: Predecessors of Café Philosophique)

The coffee shops, taverns and pubs back then were a place where people could gather and share ideas. It was the “conjugal bed” where ideas could have sex, as Matt Ridley would say (his TED Talk). Shakespeare and many other laureates hung out at these places to discuss their ideas, encourage and critique each other, learn, and most importantly — listen. Without the listening part, it would all have been a huge echo chamber.

Coffee House

Today, new environments like Internet forums, online or offline social networking, co-working spaces etc. are filling the shoes. So don’t stop talking about your ideas. But listen more.