Mourning Manik

I once asked him, “When do you sleep?”. He said pretty casually, “While travelling or a few naps here and there, whenever possible.” I never saw him feeling sleepy.

He never had a day-off from work. He was always cheerful and soft spoken. He had troubles and concerns about his business but he never seemed overwhelmed by them.

He was literally never free and hence did not take family vacations. His life was a hurried one that involved falling for the love of his life, fathering his only son and ensuring continuity of his business.

His parents and his elder brother could have bailed him out pretty early, but for reasons unknown, they could not. I recall he mentioning about the debt burden, he inherited, that cannot be repaid by liquidating his unit. The debt trap engulfed his work and family life. He struggled but still stayed on.

Five years ago when I met him, he was bald and still driving his scooter. He had calls to attend every now and then while he volunteered to pick me from airport. He was bald and had a pot belly.

His persistence at work was taking a toll on him. And yet he put up a smile of an optimist. He smartly dodged any sympathetic gestures and defended his individuality and self-respect.

On June 7, 2018 he was at home when he complained of some uneasiness. He requested his family friend to drive him to the nearest hospital. He gave up while on the way. He was declared dead at the hospital.

My friend is dead. A friend of times when I was unsettled and poor. A friend who always cheered me up. A friend who never disagreed to what I said. A friend who listened patiently.

I will miss him since he was not even 50 when he gave up. He called me a week back and I replied, “I call you back.” I should have taken his call. He must have had something to talk about.

Our Manik is no more. God! please rest his soul in peace. He is tired. Manik, it will be tough for Shalu without you but then your son is a blessing.

I will remember you once again, if I can, when I breath my last.

Next Steps- deciding on first list of subjects

It will not be easy for my daughter to decide on her career interests so early in age. With her limited reading outside her school textbooks, I decided to start suggesting a list of subjects that she should pick-up. I am pretty sure, by this approach of mine, I will not be deciding for her. My suggestions are just going to help her learn the process of deciding.

The subjects she should pick-up are:

a. Social science: With increasing role of technology in our daily lives, the paradigm of social science goes beyond human-to-human interaction. An exposure to the basic science, will lay a strong foundation for her.

b. Psychology: Specialising in Psychology will help her master the theories pertaining to human behaviour. I will personally share findings from latest empirical research to keep her abreast with the relevance of theories she studies in her curriculum.

c. Consumer Behaviour: This is a subject mostly on the application side of Psychology. This course has to be done outside of her regular curriculum since there are hardly any institutes offering it as a specialisation in India.

d. Research Methodology: This course will help her learn research design, conducting empirical studies and comprehend the existing empirical studies better. Post this coursework, I will not have to summarise the findings as mentioned above in point b.

e. Designing: Design is omnipresent in everything we use, engage or interact with. A formal course on ‘design’ as a subject will help her learn the design principles better.

f. Software programming: Some exposure to coding will help tune her logical skills to applying them. May be she codes our her first software product herself.

g. A design software: Adobe photoshop remains the most common and effective application to express creativity.

Once she is done with these 7 subjects in a span of 5 year post 2019, she in my opinion can be:

a. Behavioural scientist

b. UI/UX designer with a Software company

c. Set up her own independent research/product design company

d. And so much more

I have to be sensitive about not enforcing any of my opinions or viewpoints on her, atleast explicitly. After it is for her to decide her future.

Next Step!

My daughter completes her schooling next year in June. I have been madated by my spouse to help our daughter decide the field of education she should pursue for further studies.

My wife believes the impending decision is a high-stakes one and cannot be taken impulsively. Of course she is right but I am personally more concerned about ‘being prepared to be wrong’.

If we reciprocate a high-stakes decision with an equivalent financial commitment then we risk ‘not prepared for being wrong’. For instance, what if I end up paying Rs 1 cr for a medical seat and she decides midway of her graduation to drop and do something else.

Rather, I will provision for atleast 10 different options she tries her hand at before zeroing on one that helps get money and satisfaction.

And I will ensure she is not constrained by the limited choices offered in higher secondary education- non-medical, medical, commerce, and home science.

Books to get better at Decisions

I had realised that I had a knack to take decisions pretty quickly both personally and professionally. The skill to be decisive does not come easily and is one of the most important attributes to remain significant in a competitive world. I decided to delve deeper to get better at it. I share my evolution as a decision-maker in chronological order of the books I read.

How to make better choices in life and work was the first one I picked up. The book outlines the role of bias in decision-making and outlines, in simple steps, how to make better choices/decisions.

My first book was a pretty quick read and it did not give me the theoretical insights I usually look for in topic of my interest. Daniel Kahneman’s, ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ turned out to be the best book. The author explains the concept of behaviour using easy-to-relate concept of System 1 and System 2. Simplified interpretation of behavioural experiments in the book made me feel like an expert in the emerging field of behavioural economics.

The book had several references to lead me deeper into the subject and I preferred to pick up Influence- The Psychology of Persuasion. The book is relatively a more difficult read compared to earlier one and I could not relate to the concepts very well. May be it should have been read after I read Nudge . The subtleness of ‘nudging’ technique to influence a decision impressed me. Just like the authors of the book, I began keeping notes of nudges I noticed in daily life. I applied some of the nudge tools at work and home.

I was soon reading my next one – Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioural Economics . My ‘econ’ concepts were washed away by the whole new set of evidences presented by the authors. I became more receptive to irrationality traits in myself and others. I was getting better at nudging and leveraging irrationality in humans. I was often stating ‘behavioural economics’ as my preferred subject to complete my Doctoral program.

Predictably IrrationalThe Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions was a further refinement of the concept of irrationality and its impact on decision-making. By the time I finished reading this book, I was running out of references for new books that were significant extensions of my last few reads. 

PayoffThe Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations turned out to be a good extension on the subject of decision-making by introducing the role of motivation. The book outlines the importance of ‘meaning’ in motivating us. This goes far beyond the Maslow’s hierarchy I was introduced to as a student.

In Praise of SlownessChallenging the Cult of Speed  was an accidental pick. The book helped me comprehend the importance of prioritising and take things one at a time. The book had a significant impact on my daily routine. I quit Whatsapp for 6 months and deleted my Facebook account. I stopped reading/tracking news and finally started feeling less hurried and distracted in my daily life. Today, I am delighted to have zero updates on current affairs. 

IrresistibleThe Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked  introduced me the role of addiction and how new-age technology is influencing our behaviours. The linkage to my previous reads focused on behavioural economics was more clear. The book is an excellent read to understand why addiction is a serious challenge for us and our kids. 

I then picked up ‘The Power of Habit’ to understand how are habits formed. The concept of cue-trigger-reward will help me counter some of my habits that are likely to turn into addictions.

Now I am on ‘Hooked- How to Build Habit-Forming Products’.

I will  re-read the above books in same order for remaining part of the year to revise/refresh the concepts and keep getting better at taking decisions.

Changes in me

It’s been a while since I scribbled anything significant here. But I am regular with notes on my daily diary and a few short posts on Linkedin.

A few things that have changed in me are:

a. I am not thinking too much about the future.

b. Uncertainty of any kind is finally not worrying me.

c. I am feeling least distracted these days. Of course Instagram may be trapping me in its ludic loops but that is still limited to less than 30 minutes a day.

d. I am usually calm. And especially from inside these days.

e. I am not pulled too deep into unfavorable situations unlike in the past.

f. I am exercising but not overstraining myself.

g. I want to go for a bike trip this year too but will schedule in a way that does not disrupt my responsibilities at work.

I am changing and ageing as well.

Family time with bollywood

My daughter is lost in watching a movie that was released 10 years before she was born. At the 9th year of her life with us and being the youngest in our family, she shows same intensity that my spouse and I showed in 1997 seeing the same movie.

She asks me if I had seen this movie before. And I have no hesitation confirming it. Yes, I have seen this movie before and infact the first that her Mom and I watched when we first dated each other. Back then, we were just 17 years old.

Today, I learnt that movies form an intricate part of family time. Traditionally, Indian middle class express a lot by using Bollywood actors as proxies.

As the love story progresses, my daughter is keen to hear the outcome of the movie- Will the couple finally marry. The movie perfectly showcases the seriousness of relationships in those years which may have got diluted today.

Sisyphic Condition

Our relationship to work hinges on motivation. The motivation defined in terms of recognition for the effort. When we are not recognized for our effort, we are de-motivated and inefficiency creeps into our work life. We do have tools to motivate the experienced working at higher echelons in the organizations but the

The expectation of being recognized holds true, across all hierarchies, in an organization. I was interacting with a Chartered Accountant working with a large Company for last 8 years. His salary had grown 15% y-o-y and awarded one promotion as well. But he had decided to move-on and was keen to look for a change. “I have nothing new at my job there- same set of people, same work, nothing new. I did contribute to an idea of cost reduction, and that was implemented. But, this was a few years back.”, he said in response to one of my questions. He suffered from Sisyphus condition.

In another context, I asked my young colleagues, with work experience not exceeding a couple of years, to share their expectations from their employer and most mentioned ‘appreciation’ as a key criterion. Most of them perform monotonous jobs where critique for failure is more probable than an occasional pat on the back. They too suffer from Sisyphus condition.

The word ‘Sisyphus condition’ emerges from the name of a king named Sisyphus in Greek mythology who was punished to carry a heavy boulder up a steep hill only to roll it back the moment it reached the top and keep repeating till he died. In modern world, Sisyphus condition is used for tasks that can be labelled as laborious and futile. Why do we end-up having jobs that are at best tasks? This has something to do with the way we create jobs and define roles.