Focusing on a process

When we started working on “The Real Leaders Project” as a team 2 years ago, we set ourselves this lofty (or so it felt at that time) goal – we would publish an interview every 2 weeks and we would aim to interview people that inspired us. I don’t think we knew what we were doing and I guess there’s a certain beauty in setting goals when you have no idea what you’re committing to.

The first year was a real struggle – we were always scrambling, always late, and seemingly always in crisis. We were so much in crisis that it didn’t occur to us that we must make a website of our own. We used to just publish our interviews on this blog. But, we were beginning to secure interviews. And, most importantly, these interviews inspired us and helped us share the inspiration with others too.

We had many limiting beliefs then – especially whether we would be able to interview people without having some connection (online or real world) to them. Gradually, we got the hang of this. The second year got better much quickly – we soon realized that the biggest secret to getting into the calendars of those who inspired us was good natured persistence. Don’t take rejection personally and don’t hesitate to ask until you hear no. (This process was infinitely easier if you knew someone personally of course.. but that list was short.)

2 months into the new year, I realize I am a LOT more comfortable this year than I was last year. And why? Process – that’s it. I have a straight forward process – every weekend, I write to 5 people I’d like to interview. Typically, this is a mix of adding 2 new folks on the list and following up with 3 from previous weeks. We started the year in apparent crisis following our break in December but I reminded myself that I knew better – trust the process and results will follow. And they did. That’s not to say this process will hold us in good stead till the end of time – things change and processes need to adapt as well.

But, one of my bigger learnings over these past few years is to focus a lot of energy into developing good processes. We run large parts of our life on auto-pilot and it’s important we work intentionally on these habits. You might get the odd sequence of results that don’t go your way.. but a thought through and well executed process is a fantastic long term ally.

The Jennifer Aniston method – a deadline for playing victim

I remember a short excerpt of an interview – I think it was with Jennifer Aniston – which spoke of her method of dealing with disappointment. She said she allowed herself to play victim for a set time period e.g. a day. As a part of this “victim day,” she was allowed to do whatever she wanted – sulk, moan, eat junk food, stay in bed, watch television all day, etc.

But, after that victim day, she wasn’t allowed to play victim any more. She had given herself time to do so and it was done. She had to now take responsibility and move forward.

I love the idea. It’s hard to be proactive every minute of your life. Unexpected disappointments do hit you and catch you unawares from time to time. This idea makes sure you give yourself some time to vent. But, venting doesn’t change facts of course. As an Irish colleague and friend of mine used to say often on a challenging project – “we just have to suck it up and deal with it.”

Five for Fighting on deliberate practice and writing 100s of bad songs

I just interviewed one of my favorite singers, John Ondrasik (known as “Five for Fighting”) for RealLeaders.tv. While the interview will be up in 2 weeks, I thought I’d share a few snippets that I’m sure I’ll be thinking about for the next few days.

– He achieved his first hit in his late 20s – Superman. He called himself another example of a 20 year overnight sensation with more than 20,000 hours spent working on his music.

– He graduated with a degree in Applied Science and Mathematics from UCLA just in case his music career didn’t work out. His mom was a piano teacher and his dad was an engineer and their influences in his choices are strong and obvious.

– While he wrote Superman in one hour, it took him more than 3 months to write his 2nd hit – 100 years. He described getting that second big hit very hard because music studios want you to regurgitate what has worked. A great work ethic, a willingness to stand up for yourself and a bit of luck is what he said he needed.

– When speaking of his creative process, he said he advised young songwriters to write 100s of bad songs. Superman was one of a 100 songs he wrote that year. He also spoke of how he made sure he spent a lot of time outdoors when looking for inspiration. If he felt stuck, he’d take a 2 hour hike and write outside. Staying healthy and happy helps him a lot.

– Finally, when talking of an idea that inspired him – he spoke about the idea of taking nothing and making something out of it. Artists, creators, and entrepreneurs do it. It’s result may be a low note or a high note – it almost doesn’t matter because true happiness lies in the journey.

His thoughts are a lovely collection of the many ideas that this blog stands for. It’s a great reminder that there are no shortcuts. More to follow on the interview soon.

And, thanks for taking the time, John.

Liking what’s not real

Bollywood movies would have you believe that Indian life has a lot of singing and dancing and chasing your loved ones around trees in beautiful landscapes. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Visit Mumbai and it’s unlikely you’ll find much singing, dancing, or public displays of affection.

I think we love entertainment that doesn’t reflect too much of reality. It’s nice to be able to forget the (often painful) real world. Mobile games do that, for example. They ensure we carry a virtual world with us wherever we go.

Similarly, when it is time for next the summer Olympics, there will be a lot of anticipation and excitement around the 100m race to crown the “fastest man on earth.” Its fitting – life couldn’t be more different.

It is rarely about speed. It is almost always about endurance. It’s taking one hit after another, picking up the pieces and moving forward. Well, trying to, at least.

“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!” 
| Rocky Balboa

Interview with Abhishek Radhakrishnan, Co-Founder of LambdaMu games

This week’s edition of RealLeaders.tv is an interview with the founder of a promising mobile gaming start-up. Very few mobile gaming start-ups actually succeed in generating revenues and I was keen to hear from Abhishek Radhakrishnan as to how they managed to crack the code. The other important detail here is that Abhishek is a friend of mine from university and I was keen to understand how he made the transition from a creative Mechanical Engineer to Game Designer.

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About Abhishek – Abhishek Radhakrishan started his career at Logic Mills where he grasped the fundamentals of building games and developing games. Aside from collecting game XP (experience, in Abhishek’s lingo) at work, he gathered it by playing games and teaching rules of games to anyone who’d listen. He then co-founded Lambda Mu games and now, he designs games for a living with his team at Lambda Mu. Lambda Mu’s game, Pixel people, was released to critical acclaim and was released in partnership with Chilingo, EA’s mobile games division. Chilingo has previously released world famous games like Angry Birds and Cut the Rope.

My favorite quotes as always –

“I think what was really valuable for me, which I think maybe is not something that a lot of people experience, was my ability to teach people how to play games.”

“If the people can’t understand how the game works, then it’s not a well-designed game.”

(Skills of a good game designer) “exposure to as many games as possible matters.  You need to know what’s out there.  I did this by reading lots of books just to see the different styles that are out there, to broaden my horizons, to see what are the different elements I can use and combine, and to find inspiration. That’s one of the most obvious ones.  It’s necessary but not sufficient.

The next thing you need is to realize that a game is an experience.  You’re creating an experience for a person and it’s very hard to create an experience for other people if you haven’t had experiences yourself.   You need to go out there and try to do as many things as possible, see as many things as possible, and read as many things as possible.  Watch TV, movies, try things.  Read about history and literature.  Inspiration for a game can come from anywhere.  Psychology is an important field to be well-versed in because they understand behavior.  A really broad exposure to as many subjects and experiences as possible really helps the design angle.

From the practical angle, you need really good communication skills.”

“Every time there’s a crisis, or failure, or something has gone wrong it’s not about hindsight.  It’s about finding out what went wrong.  We just lost 10,000 dollars on this screw up, let’s get 10,000 dollars’ worth of education out of it.”

“In most role-playing games, one of the main goals is to get as much XP as possible, or experience.  That’s the thing for life also.  You have some unknown number of years to play this game.  We don’t know where the endpoint is, but you know that there is an end and the object of the game is not necessarily to see how much that coin balances at the end because that’s not the score that’s recorded.  It’s not even what high score is pulled out but it’s how much XP your character can get by the end. That’s how I try to look at life as well.  What can I do today to up my XP?  Every day little by little make sure you’ve done something to increase that XP bar.”

Full transcript, as always, on RealLeaders.tv. Thanks Abhishek, for taking the time!

Problem finding vs. problem solving – The 200 words project

Here’s this week’s 200 word idea from To Sell is Human by Dan Pink.

In an interesting 20 year study, researchers Jacob Getzels and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi at the University of Chicago filled a room with about 20 objects and asked students studying art to paint something connecting a few of these objects.

Roughly one half (the “problem solvers”) took a quick look and went on to start painting. The other half (the “problem finders”) took a long time examining the objects carefully and figuring out the links between them before painting.

The paintings were then judged by people who hadn’t seen the artists in action; the “problem finder” paintings received higher scores.

Over the next two decades, a much larger proportion of “problem finders” went onto become successful as artists while many of the problem solvers ended up switching careers.

Our education trains us to take pride in our ability to solve problems. However, problem finding ensures we are solving “the” problem instead of just spending our energies on “a” problem. Maybe we should start sharpening our ability to find problems instead of just sharpening our ability to solve them.

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Source and thanks to: www.EBSketchin.com

‘The first group was trying to solve a problem: How can I produce a good drawing? The second was trying to find a problem: What good drawing can I produce?’ | Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

The Kindle and Enid Blyton

I grew up reading Enid Blyton, a British novelist. I don’t know if this is an Indian thing but Enid Blyton was the most common children’s author when were growing up. I owe Enid Blyton’s book a lot – her stories ensured I had a childhood full of stories of kids who solved mysteries and had adventures on their own.

Inspired by her books, I’d even started a small group that met on Sundays to discuss conspiracy theories around issues like the Bermuda Triangle. We didn’t sustain that for too long. So, in true start-up spirit, we pivoted to create a lending library. This was our first money making venture and, while it made us some pocket money, it was hugely problematic as every time we got into a fight, one of the parties threatened to take their books back. It taught me an important lesson – beware of large partnerships! Anyway, I digress.

As I was reading a book on my Kindle day before yesterday, I decided to do a quick search for some of Enid Blyton’s books. And voila! A huge collection was available. This must be somewhat recent as I remember checking for them a year or so ago. I immediately went about purchasing a few books from my favorites series – the Malory Towers series, Mr Galliano’s circus, the Five Find-outers, and the Famous Five. And I now carry all of them on my iPad and have begun reading the first Malory Towers book. It feels wonderful.

This post isn’t as much about the wonders of technology or the kindle (they definitely are wonderful, alright). It is what the technology we have today enables. When I walk around with my phone in my pocket and my iPad in my bag, I carry a 100 books with me. It’s never been easier to get smarter, get creative, go down memory lane, and pretty much do so many things that would have been science fiction thirty years ago.

It really is an amazing time to be alive. And, for all of us who are touched by technology, there really are no excuses for procrastination and squandering away the most important finite resource at our disposal.. we need to get over ourselves and our problems and make these gifts count.

Rejections and the long term

I had reached out to Gina Trapani, founder of Lifehacker, for an interview for the Real Leaders Project this weekend. She responded within 48 hours (thanks Gina) and said it didn’t look like she’d be able to make time for it in the foreseeable future.

Instead of being disappointed, I was actually pretty happy. And I spent a couple of minutes wondering why that was the case – I had just been rejected after all.

When it comes to requesting some of the more famous people for interviews, I have come to accept that it sometimes takes up to 12 months or 18 months to make it happen. Sometimes, I get lucky and it works out almost immediately. But, otherwise, it can take pretty long. I think of it as the “testing intent” phase. I’m pretty sure these folks receive multiple requests for interviews. An interview with the Real Leaders Project is more an act of giving as we don’t have the sort of reach (yet :)) that would benefit them. They have multiple giving options and are understandably not entirely sure if they should invest in us. That’s fine by us. We’re more than happy to follow up multiple times in the next few months and not take the wait personally. We know we’ll stick around because we’re in it for the long run.

The long run… that’s what makes the difference. If my time horizon was 1 month, I would be disappointed by Gina’s response. But, since my time horizon is many years long, I am sure we’ll end up finding a time.

Rejection don’t feel like rejections when you think long term.

Congratulations Whatsapp

Whatsapp is my favorite social network by a country mile. I blogged about it six months back, it’s numbers and growth have been consistently through the roof, and Facebook has now validated it by paying $19 Billion for it.

A few observations/thoughts –

1. Mark Zuckerberg is probably reading “The Innovator’s Dilemma.” I think this is a smart move. There was a time when Facebook was the best social network out there. Now, Whatsapp is the best social network (in my opinion) everywhere outside the US and China – certainly in terms of time spent and overall usage. Ben Evans describes it as Facebook’s attempt to be the “next Facebook.” Sounds about right.

2. Facebook is investing heavily into mobile with Whatsapp and Instagram. I think it is doing the smart thing by not attempting to integrate all these companies into Facebook in an obvious way. Let them be. Let them do their thing. It’s good for everyone.

3. Whatsapp have done a phenomenal job being completely under the radar.

4. Once again, Whatsapp demonstrate the power of the combination of a great product and a bit of luck. Companies like Google got their break because of a killer product while companies like YouTube probably had a healthy slice of luck. In case of Whatsapp, they had a simple product that just worked and even though they had competition from Kik and Viber, the very viral nature of the product ensured they grabbed most of the online mobile user-base globally (except perhaps China and the US – where WeChat and Snapchat/Kik reign).

5. The rate at which Google, Facebook and Amazon go about acquiring companies is truly mind-blowing. It validates the now conventional wisdom of leading venture capitalists who ensure companies are focused on acquiring users and their product before revenue. If you build an outstanding company with 300M users and almost no revenue, you still have a great shot at being bought out  by an internet giant who won’t have trouble footing the bills to capture your reach. Granted – 300M users is no easy thing but it probably still makes it easier for entrepreneurs to focus.

And, straying off topic for a moment, enough with the social web already. I’d like to see this sort of innovation in agritech and wellness. There’s a lot of good work waiting to be done.

Congratulations to the Whatsapp team – well deserved. And good job Facebook.

Numbers and stats

You might have started your blog/website with the noble intention of making the internet better by sharing your passion for a topic of choice. You then did the usual – signed up for Google Analytics, a Facebook page, a Feedburner account, etc.

Click through on any of these and you see numbers and stats thrown at you – total reach, number of page views, number of unique visitors, bounce rate, etc., etc. You notice that one post has had more visitors than others – maybe you should post many more like that one? These numbers then prime you when you begin writing your next post and make you wonder what you can do to further increase your reach. Should you perhaps start paying for a bit more reach?

Suddenly, you’ve lost track of that initial objective of making the internet better. Suddenly, it’s all a competition.

A blog is just one example, of course. Numbers and stats in any domain can mess with our original intentions. Charities go about trying to increase the number of donors, partners and regularly forget about focusing on impact (which is much harder to measure). Companies focus so hard on the stock price race that they forget about serving customers and the problems they set out to solve.

Don’t let everything become a bloody competition. Use numbers and stats where necessary. Throw them away if you’re trying to make art. Figure out why you’re doing what you’re doing. Then just do it.