Startup media is always in search of the next Steve Jobs, the next Elon Musk, the next Richard Branson and so on. Why just media, we ourselves aspire to be the next whoever. What if we let go of this desire and simply allow ourselves to become whoever we actually are?
When Satya Nadella became Microsoft’s CEO, someone in my family sent a message to our group email reminding everyone that he went to the same school and college as I did. I knew where this line of thinking was going. Our minds crave to be associated with other people’s success. These associations keep changing based on context – location, ethnicity, industries, background and so on. If Sachin Tendulkar is from Mumbai, we associate ourselves with Mumbai more. We take pride in the fact that Indians discovered zero even while knowing that we have nothing to do with the person who actually figured out nothingness.
What’s more, I’ve seen successful entrepreneurs emulate absurd things like wearing Steve Job-esque black turtle neck t-shirts. It almost seems to say, “Please, please look at me, I can also be like Steve Jobs.”
Our rational selves already know that the coolness is not in the t-shirt, it’s the other way round. The commonality with other successful people through academic background, ethnicity, or clothes (gasp) has almost nothing to do with our own success. But, yet entrepreneurs seem to be on the trip of discovering everyone, but themselves.
The me-next syndrome doesn’t end with people. Entire startups and their investors try to emulate other companies – from real estate to food startups to app-commerce. Our search for notional success is so desperate that we are willing to copy anything. What if we truly thought differently?
People who rise above the horizon help us discover the extent of our own potential as humanity. But, that’s where their story needs to end and ours must begin. What we do next after getting inspired is what actually matters.
Even if we were to follow someone else’s roadmap and achieve exactly what they did, those efforts won’t close the loop within ourselves and give us that satisfaction we seek. The reason is simply because inside of us, we are quite different from everyone else out there. The point is to allow this deeper self to express itself outside.
Discovering what we are meant to do is less to do with doing, but more to do with undoing. When we stop doing things that are incongruous to our core values, we slowly start finding ourselves. When we observe our actions at times when no one is watching, we get glimpses into what kindles our inner selves. Activities where we spend time with no expectation of getting paid, show us what we love doing and could go on doing despite challenges.
The more we stay true to that core part of our personality, the richer will be our work. A product of such work stands apart from the crowd – just like we actually do. You will perceive the uniqueness and freshness around these products. It is then that others discover you. It is the kind of work that inspires others to be just like you.
There’s perhaps a thing about basements and startups. My first few offices were in basements of apartments in Ann Arbor, Michigan. After my MBA, I stayed on in short-stay, sub-leased apartments that had free bed and Internet and allowed me cook my own desi food. I had a fat, second-hand IBM laptop that sat on top of a drawing board that doubled up as a desk annexed to my bed. In the initial days, I mostly kept to myself trying to figure how to make our company happen through that laptop and my phone. Sooner than later, I realized that I needed to get out and do something outside my confinement.
Entrepreneurs love the idea of being discovered. You love the idea that someone would be super wowed by your idea and give you the cash to go make it happen. Business partners would find you irresistible and introduce you to their companies. Clients would find your product so impressive that they can’t stop themselves from calling you. And your fortunes would change overnight like those stories we read about in glossy startup magazines.
As you already know, most of the above hardly happens without relentless focus and hard work for a sustained period of time. And it doesn’t happen without you showing up. Attending conferences, organizing seminars, cold calling on clients, helping potential partners – anything you do outside your room would bring you a step closer to making your business a reality.
More than a month after hibernating in my basement, I started driving up to several potential clients near Detroit. It was difficult to be said “no” to so many times. I would sit in my car after meetings and be disillusioned with the whole startup stuff. Most of my efforts didn’t result in much business. But, it helped in one important thing- it created in me a habit of showing up.
When you show up, you increase your chances of being discovered and that changes everything. Here are a few pointers to help you get out.
1) Know that you are okay exactly as you are. It’s okay to be a shy, an introvert, nerdy, thin or fat, short or tall, clumsy, poorly-dressed, uncool, socially awkward person with an above-average business idea or intellect and irrelevant work experience. Push aside all the reasons that set you back. Just be yourself and do your thing.
2) Develop a short and long version of your idea. Find a way to articulate your idea or vision in short and long versions. Why are you passionate about this? What anecdotes come to mind? What in the industry do you really find frustrating? You will find these versions helpful when you meet others.
3) Be sincerely useful to the other person. When you meet someone, become interested in what they are trying to do instead of pushing your own agenda. If you run into an investor, don’t overwhelm her with your pitch like everyone else – instead, get to know the person by asking a question or two. When you meet other entrepreneurs, help them succeed.
4) Get thick-skinned. No one really knows whether you or your idea has the ability to be glorious. The origins of the greatest companies in history have all kinds of beginnings. Listen to people’s reactions but don’t let any sort of feedback dissuade you from doing what your heart tells you from within.
5) Cross-pollinate your ideas. Show up at avenues that let you run into people whom you would otherwise never meet. If you are a scientist, show up at business events. If you are a business person, engage with technologists. If you are an engineer, go meet creative designers.
Switching your mindset from worker to entrepreneur
Regardless of whether you run your own business or not, you will do better by approaching your career with an entrepreneurial mindset and not that of a worker. What’s the difference?
A worker waits for things to happen while an entrepreneur goes about making things happen. A worker expects someone to assign tasks and review performance. A worker depends on the organization to provide training and waits for the boss to applaud and reprimand. A worker yearns for higher paying jobs because money becomes the primary reason to work. An entrepreneur is the antithesis of the worker.
As an entrepreneur you cannot afford to wait because you are the one sitting in the driver’s seat. You are not expecting someone to be responsible for you – instead, you assume the responsibility of your colleagues. If your organization doesn’t provide the training you need, you find ways to learn from a Udemy course or through a mentor.
A client’s performance becomes the primary indicator of your performance. You link your daily work to the biggest needs of your organization. You become interested in the development of others because you realize that in their growth lies your growth. You build a personal brand and stand for your core values. You replace illogical spending with investing because you begin to view your time and money as tools to create opportunities.
A worker mindset puts you at more risk than you imagine because you place your career at the mercy of someone else – your boss, team, or organization. In an environment where markets drive decisions, gone are the days of guaranteed lifetime employment.
The way to thrive in today’s rapidly changing times is to develop an entrepreneurial mindset where, regardless of where you are in your career, you are taking up the task of creating opportunities for yourself and for those around you. What is required is a shift in thinking, not necessarily your work. But where do you begin?
Start by not doing things as a worker would. Examine your day and you would find umpteen ways to take responsibility from helping a new recruit with what you know to improving a client’s performance by a notch. Make a list of things you think you must learn – for example, better presentation skills. Invest your money in online resources to keep learning those useful skills.
Identify a big problem your client or organization has. Think how you would go about solving the problem if you were responsible for it. Once you have some ideas, go about implementing them and request for support once you are further down the line. Examine your finances and ask yourself the question, how many days can you go without salary? Build financial independence so that you work for more meaningful reasons. Evaluate how you spent your time last week. Make changes to include activities with longterm impact.
You will know you are shedding the worker mindset when people relate to you differently and responsibilities naturally flow your way. You will find yourself complaining less because you will feel more confident about your abilities to create change. Once you shift gears to working as an entrepreneur, you will never be able to fully shift back. And that’s a wonderful thing.
One of the big reasons people don’t start up is because they fear failure. They fear what others would think of them if markets proved them wrong. They fear finding a job if their venture failed. They fear that no one would ever invest money in their idea. They fear competition. They fear for the basic needs of life that people with real jobs take for granted. In fact, they fear the most absurd. Almost of all of it is in their head and rarely becomes a reality if they were ever to simply get started.
I was recently at an alumni event in Bangalore, the city that’s often referred to as India’s Silicon Valley with a perpetual traffic jam. Nearly every second person I met wanted to start up. These potential entrepreneurs were from illustrious backgrounds – top MBAs, marquee corporate jobs, great lifestyle, money to survive without pay for several months. But that exactly seemed to be the problem. The problem was letting go of all the show-and-tell and starting up with something meaningful that would make it all worth it, if it were to go belly-up.
In reality, failure is wonderful. When you fail it means that you actually tried something that’s hard for you. You pushed boundaries. Maybe the markets or stars didn’t align but that’s okay. Maybe you were naive and inexperienced. But you grew up. You had the nerve to get off that long dark tunnel and be true to your inner calling. The minute you accept this, something changes within you. You become stronger.
Failure in reality is only a concept. Notions of templated success make you choose the tried and tested paths repeatedly. When you rationally examine what failure is, you realize that it’s simply arriving at an outcome different from what you initially expected. And when you probe, you realize that it’s really not such a big deal to arrive at a different outcome. Ideas of failure dissolve and dissipate. In fact, failure takes no meaning at all. In the bay area, there’s even a term for it: fail fast and fail forward.
Things that you don’t start because of fear or inaction remain like a gnawing monkey on your back. Once it’s on there, it never gets off. No one will ever be able to tell you whether your ideas are worth it. But as you know in the recesses of your heart, it’s far better to live a life where you tried bringing them to life than to hit the grave with the monkey still clinging firmly on your back.
We are often sure of what we dislike more than we what we like. We keep changing work situations in the hope of stumbling upon things that would make us happy. And when we do find something we love doing, we are somewhat in doubt – could there be something better out there? May be. May be not. Actually, it doesn’t matter – unless we work in an environment that curbs our enthusiasm.
There’s a simple test to find what you love. Find those activities that have the innate ability to pause other thoughts.
Even if it is for a few moments, if you are able to enter a zone where nothing else matters then you just met what you love. These experiences engage you, draw you in and you can’t stop yourself from pursuing them. You never have to justify to yourself why you are doing it. You almost never think about time, leave alone money. For me, I’m in complete bliss when I’m creating something – it doesn’t matter whether it’s a business or product or painting or writing. I get restless when someone interrupts me. Everything feels a little light and there’s an uplifting energy that affects other activities. The best part is this love almost never changes.
If you are in doubt, all you have to do is simply do the activity that paused you again and you’ll notice that your mind pauses yet again. You exactly know what am talking about because we have all experienced this. The problem is however that our mind instructs us to overlook what we love when the moment passes. We tell ourselves to not be stupid, to be a little more practical and to do the right things. We fear the disapproval of others and when they tell us that we are irrational, we do our best to mute our inner urges.
There is a litmus test that constantly tells us what we love by stilling everything else. All we have to do is simply say yes without worrying about everything else.
Just as with Mobile and Wearables, we are at the cusp of yet another technology becoming a big part of our daily lives. Revolutionary technology cooks for a long time in research labs, starting in spurts before finally taking the leap mainstream. After its long journey from the days of the Sensorama in the 1950s, Virtual Reality (VR) is ready to get real.
We are already living a virtual life through Facebook, Skype, YouTube, Whatsapp, Amazon, LinkedIn and so on. These virtual worlds have permanently altered our real worlds. The new technology would simply make our virtual experiences so immersive that it would become difficult to distinguish between what’s real and what’s not (read this layman’s guide to VR).
Secretive startup Magic Leap is building a device (below, an image from their patent application) that would beam images directly onto our retinas so that we can see virtual elephants jumping on our palms (see video above).
Microsoft’s HoloLens is a wearable computer that makes holographic projections around our physical space and lets us manipulate them using our hands – moving them around, drawing, constructing. Other devices are variations of these visions – making our perceptions of the virtual more real in a very 3D way.
We would truly enter the realm of science fiction when VR gets other sensory capabilities such as that of touch (through haptic technology, think Wearables 2.0) or even smell (such as the olfactory phone where you can text a coffee sniff to a friend). Here’s an intriguing holy grail for VR:
After one passes on, his great-great-great-grandchildren can enter a “holodeck,” sit on the long-deceased ancestor’s lap, tell him about their day, experience his avatar tell a story, give a hug, and provide advice. A quite reasonable facsimile of a person’s dynamic tendencies can be preserved indefinitely in virtual reality.Blascovich, Jim; Bailenson, Jeremy (2011-04-05). Infinite Reality: Avatars, Eternal Life, New Worlds, and the Dawn of the Virtual Revolution (p. 145). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
5 Startup Ideas For VR Medicine
Mobile app stores have long established the way forward for the spread of new technologies – create developer platforms to build apps that encourage rapid adoption. VR platforms would do the same to attract new users from a variety of industries. Unlike in earlier years, the healthcare industry is on a hot new pursuit to embrace new technology. Here are 5 startup ideas that would take advantage of this brewing VR revolution.
1) Democratizing surgical systems. A few years ago, I played with the da Vinci robotic surgical system at Intuitive Surgical’s offices. Looking through a viewfinder that expanded vision, I used my fingers to control multiple robotic arms. With my enhanced psychomotor skills and other superpowers, I felt a little like Goddess Kali with multiple hands. The big hurdle for the spread of this technology has been cost.
New VR systems combined with dropping costs of sensors and robotics would democratize the manufacture of similar surgical systems. It would be possible to dramatically enhance the capabilities of surgical instruments through increased fidelity and finer control systems making surgery minimally invasive. Add deep learning algorithms and haptic feedback to the mix and we could have surgical instruments that aid surgeons while performing procedures.
2) Enhancing physician training. Dr. Vipulroy Rathod from Endoscopy Asia has trained over 400 gastroenterologists globally. He recently started an online portal called Endoscopy Guru that provides thousands of physician trainees access to possibly one of the largest archives of endoscopy videos. In the future, trainees would wear VR gear and find themselves standing next to Dr. Rathod in the operating room. Using haptic medical gloves (see image again from Magic Leap’s patent application), they might even feel the scope entering a patient’s gut. These training programs would be archived for perpetuity so that future generations of doctors can understand how endoscopy and several other procedures evolved over time.
VR simulation has long been used in aviation and military training – it would firmly find its place in medicine once the bottlenecks of cost and complexity are removed.
3) Building psychosomatic applications. An increasing body of researchpoints to psychosomatic reasons (influence of mind over body) for several ailments. Through personal experience, we know that certain memories and thoughts have physical manifestations. Thoughts of fear make our hearts beat faster, guilt exhibits itself in the stomach region, sexual thoughts in the erogenous zones, sadness around the throat and so on.
Virtual Reality is directly suited for manipulating physical experiences. There would be several applications that provide the desired immersive, mental stimulus to result in a tangible physical outcome. For example, when a patient in physical therapy sees herself running normally, she would recover faster.Virtually Better is a great illustration of the potential of immersive clinical care. They developed Virtual Iraq, a virtual reality simulation environment that helps soldiers deal with post traumatic stress disorder (see video to learn how it actually feels).
4) Increasing patient compliance. One of the biggest problems in medical care is patient compliance. We routinely fail to stick to diets, take medicines in time and get ourselves screened regularly. In the future, we would use visually-enriched VR applications to keep ourselves in check, just as we use wearablestoday.
During a session at Singularity University, Larry Smarr (often called The Patient of the Future) passed around a 3D printed model of his colon. I was amused holding the model, turning it around to see what a problematic colon actually looked like. The fact is visualizing symptoms increases patient compliance – when we see our hearts clogged, we would listen to our doctors better. With VR gear, we would sit with our doctors, spin around our organs and see the link between compliance and health. And with a desktop 3D printer, our doctor could even print them for us to take home and admire!
5) Making remote healthcare delivery happen. Medical treatment typically goes through a series of steps from identifying presenting symptoms, capturing subjective and objective medical data, diagnosing and chalking out a plan. With the aid of data and visualization tools, it’s possible to deliver care remotely today. Companies such as American Well, Doctor on Demand and Teladoc have demonstrated that there is demand for virtual care and a way to deliver it effectively. Virtual Reality could dramatically make this experience more real.
Through the use of medical haptic gloves (think of gloves with lots of sensors), a patient can be touched remotely helping a doctor get sensory feedback during a physical exam. When a patient and doctor see each other sitting or standing in front of them, the experience is very close to a normal office visit. Aided with EHR data and remote lab tests enabled through microfluidics devices, it may even be possible to deliver healthcare remotely most of the time and to places where healthcare is not accessible.
What to do next?
Buy a Google Cardboard kit to experience VR for under $15 or even better, fold your own with everyday items like cardboard, lenses, magnets, velcro and a rubber band. Then experiencePaul McCartney perform “Live and Let Die” in 360 degrees, with stereo 3D in what’s called a cinematic VR. Then startup.
Of things that bother me as an entrepreneur, what I often worry about is the risk of steering away from risks, of staying cocooned in predictable situations, of avoiding discomfort (physical or otherwise) and of running behind the dog tail of banal pursuits. Trekking outdoors somehow seems to shake me, wake me up and make me re-examine my life indoors.
I just recovered from a mini trek in Ladakh, a region in the Trans-Himalayas – living in a remote village of 22 homes six hours away from the nearest road, living in a monastery high up close to the Siachen glacier and living next to a frozen lake in a transitory village of nomads. The trip was exhilarating, silent and was the best form of training that I could ask for.
Why It’s Important To Get Out
1) Realizing that it’s a bigger world out there. Lost inside our laptops and trapped in our siloed offices, we somehow assume that that’s all there is to the world. Getting outdoors reminds me that it’s a big, big world out there – with lots of people and lots of space. While peeing on one Ladakh night, I recall gaping at our Milky Way stretching across thousands and thousands of stars that are often tucked away from city dwellers. We are surely not alone. All we have to do is open our eyes and see.
One day, I saw hundreds of Kiangs (Tibetan wild asses) trotting on a surreal landscape of snow and ice – I never knew that these animals even existed. And here they were doing their thing, oblivious to my existence. One of the villages had only three inhabitants – really old women who spoke only Ladakhi – I wondered if they knew or even cared about the travails of our modern-day lives.
Seeing the difficulties of others tends to make our own tribulations small. We tend to respect people more and have gratitude for what we already have.
2) Learning to let others develop. We sometimes believe that our workplaces cannot run without us. They do. They must. It’s important to build systems that function and run like engines regardless of who is driving. In fact, I noticed thatbeing away allows teams to develop, to make decisions independently and to embrace the risk of making those decisions. This results in growth and expansion of what as a team we are normally capable of.
3) Learning to need less. Not just our body but our brain also adapts to extreme conditions. We quickly learn to make do with less. We innovate better. We would consider hot noodles as gourmet food in -30 degrees centigrade and a cup of warm water a blessing. We would even find the WC a highly sophisticated luxury. All this is absolutely fantastic when we get back indoors because we wouldrealize that what we need is actually very little. When we are back, we tend to whine less, accept things more as they are and simply get on with making things happenregardless of externalities.
4) Learning about our own body. We usually don’t get to utilize our body fully and test its abilities. In the outdoors, particularly under harsh weather conditions, we realize that the body is far more capable than we think. Our mind invariably takes over and instructs the body to do things that it’s not used to. For example, to simply focus on putting one more step forward when you simply cannot.
Trekking outdoors provides one of the best medical reports ever. It dynamically points to the muscles that are weak and knees that work. The level of panting tells me about my cardio fitness and I kick myself every time for the alcohol I’ve consumed and for the times I skipped a workout. As a patient of chronic hypertension for all my adult life, trekking has helped me become more confident of my body’s capacity and has made me want to live healthier.
5) Learning to manage risk better. Trekking outdoors makes me realize that I can plan but cannot foresee every risk. When risk manifests (think hypothermia), my mind either succumbs to it or develops an ability to rise above it. More often than not it’s through discipline and training that our minds winand manage risk.
I remember getting lost on one of my treks (it was on the way to the Everest Base Camp). I somehow trailed away from my group and before long I had no clue where I was. My immediate tendency was to panic. After collecting my thoughts and taking a chocolate break, I slowly found and followed cow flops that eventually led to a hut and finally to my exasperated group. At another time, while descending from Kilimanjaro I suffered from a bout of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). Visibility was poor and we were out of water and food. Descending required an extremely controlled mind over body.
It’s experiences like these that make entrepreneurial risks easier to handle. We tend to develop an innate sense that instructs and assures us that this situation can also be figured out.
But the greatest virtue of the outdoors has to be the silence it creates. It questions the noise that we have taken for granted in our lives – the phones, the emails, the Whatsapp messages, the meetings, the networking and other tails that wag the dog. Creativity rises from silence when the din of this busy-ness pauses. Turning it all off and getting out would help the discovery within.
Do you have experiences of getting out and learning?
After years of deliberation, dreaming and dreading, I decided to start a business towards the end of my MBA. Most of my buddies were done with Michigan and left Ann Arbor on world tours, family gatherings or new jobs. I had a large student loan but no family around to worry about. My wife (who also finished her MBA) headed to India to start a career in marketing. I had lots of time but no money. My biggest possessions were a fat IBM laptop and a Jetta car from my pre-MBA days.
After a point, I felt odd hanging around with friends in Ann Arbor – they had family, kids and jobs. When I was desperate for some company, I bought cheap wine, called the families home and served my wine in nice glasses. After a couple of glasses, everyone was usually happy. I read up online on what jobless students did with student loans and learnt of loan deferment and told Citibank that I can’t pay up right now because I had no job, which was technically correct.
I had a single business suit that I bought at a Brooks Brothers outlet. Armed with brochures of our company that I printed at school, I would wear the same suit everyday and drive around Detroit and Southeast Michigan, handing those off to medical practices (whom we were targeting). Over the next few months, I stayed in four different houses that students subleased when they were away – it usually came with low rent, a free bed, nice books and wifi (one even came with a dog). I figured that with my Michigan ID, I could rent VHS tapes from the University library – I took to Akira Kurasawa and Hindi movies that I wasn’t allowed to watch while growing up in India.
There was this doctor-owner of a large medical group in Colorado we routinely pitched to over the phone. I was thrilled when he told us that he wanted to invest $25K in our business. Soon he said he would actually like to do a $50K. My joy knew no bounds when that amount was upped to $200K. Then out of the blue we got an email one day that told us that his money preferred a vineyard to our business. Another investor suggested that I might take his money and run away. My fragile b-school ego remained crushed from time to time.
Here’s how I survived and even had fun. I continue doing so today.
Having easy mental exits. For me an exit is a movie (I once saw 15min each of 4 different movies, just for some crazy fun). When the doctor investor chose a vineyard over our business, I went to see Harold and Kumar – laughed a lot and got back on the street the next morning. Even during the toughest times, I exercised every other day, went trekking, pursued activities that made me happy (none of those needed money anyways).
Run a marathon with sprints. Yes, it’s sometimes annoying to see super growth stories like Facebook and it makes me think what’s wrong with me. But time and again I realize that if I’m in it for the long haul, I need to focus on what matters to me. Creating new things is the way I like to lead my life, spend my time. So it really doesn’t matter who else does what, I have to keep doing my thing.
When training to be a long-distance entrepreneur, you need a routine. Mine includes good sleep, meditation, exercise and eating lots of dal and vegetables daily.
You don’t really need anything to be happy. May be I technically slept in the office (when the office was attached to my bed in a basement – see pic) but I never thought of that to be a big deal. Einstein said, we act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life. All that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about. It’s so true. Entrepreneurship is not about the other stuff – it’s largely about being excited about creating something. If I need to go back to a basement office-plus-bed even today, I easily and happily would.
Doing it for the money. Money would be the stupidest reason to attempt an entrepreneurial life, even though it usually comes. The Economist article talks about stresses owing to mortgage and car loans – but you don’t have to be an entrepreneur to have them. My take on personal finance issues has been to avoid them altogether. Keeping financial needs low has allowed me to take business risks without other worries.
Do it only for yourself.There’s only so much your family, friends and mentors can support you. It’s largely a mental game that you play for yourself. To expect others to share your pain would be quite unreasonable. I found that having a business partner who is on a similar wavelength as you is helpful, especially when the rest of the world seems to be on the other side.
There’s no right time. There’s really no right time, age or life situation that makes the journey smooth or easy. Starting is only half the story, the rest of it is being able to handle an ongoing churn in the stomach and being able to create despite everything else. Investors comment. Clients complain. Employees quit. Nearly everyone will advice you about the problems in your business. My teacher,C.K. Prahalad often said that if your aspirations are not greater than resources, then you are not an entrepreneur. There’s no question about it.
It’s nice to read about other entrepreneurs but there’s only so much swimming you can experience by reading. Ultimately, you have to jump into the water to find out how it feels.
Back in 2010, I attended a Sculpture Marathon at the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting & Sculpture. I worked hard at the studio into the night without any goals – I simply wanted to understand art. My teacher Bruce Gagnier was a skillful master who knew how to penetrate a student’s consciousness. And he so influenced mine that what I learnt continues to impact my work years later, beyond the studio and into the business world.
Here’s what I learnt.
Think Plasticity. Plastic consciousness in art is the ability to see depth and perspective – not the flattened images that we think they should be. For example, when we see a table, we never ever see a rectangular structure but our mind keeps telling us it’s one. What we actually see is a more angular, elongated structure with disproportionate edges based on where we are standing. Study Van Gogh’s classic Bedroom in Arles – why does the bed look monstrously bigger than the chair? Our mind will tell us that this is stupid. But in reality this is how Van Gogh’s eyes must’ve seen from where he was sitting.
Just like our computers, we are over-educated. Plastic consciousness – for business purposes, let’s call it seeing things as they are, is a very primitive skill but we seem to have lost it during our evolution.
The idea is to learn to observe what’s in front of us without the damage of our educated minds.
Space is a dialogue. In painting, an object is formed not just by itself but by the space around it. Space is the dialogue between two objects. The environment pushes and shapes the object and the object changes the environment forever.
In business, we can work all we want to sell the hard way. But we can also pause and change the environment surrounding the sale. Simply making the space around the object more conducive to buying will change the perspective of the object that’s itching to be sold.
Change your clay if you have to. I worked for hours one day on a bust of clay. Bruce quietly came from behind and crushed it with a plank of wood. I was annoyed, though I suppressed it (you really can’t get upset with Bruce). He said, you can’t build a sculpture with this kind of clay for how many ever hours you try – change the clay.
We sometimes struggle with the wrong clay in our teams, with our tools. Sometimes, it’s best to accept that our clay is of the wrong kind and simply change it.
Don’t fake it. There was this other time when I vigorously squeezed my clay around creating what – I really don’t know. Bruce walked with hands behind his back and said, don’t fake it. Then he continued, do it for the right reasons – the art itself is what matters, the rest is BS.
We sometimes struggle for the wrong reasons – there’s the career, the position, the politics, the ego, the car, the mortgage, the network, the net worth. None of that really is work. Don’t fake it. Work itself is the reason – everything else is well BS.
Always be in sketch mode. We are always in a hurry to finish up. When we finish something that’s what it is – finished. In Regenesis, the authors write that our genome is older than our oldest ancestor and yet fresher than a newborn baby and has covered the planet with descendants a billion times a billion times a billion over (10^27). Nature never finishes up – it’s always in sketch mode. Cells routinely die everyday to create new cells.
The only work I did that Bruce ever liked was what I thought was completely incomplete. He said, always be in sketch mode. In product development, we always aim for completion. We need to ship. We are interested in the other things that follow shipping. But sketch-mode allows us to get the fundamental form right. And when we know that we’ll never finish, we’ll be a little humble about what our product can do because there will always be more to do.
There are no morals. There are are no morals in art. There’s no right art or wrong art. What’s right for someone is wrong for another. It’s the same with product design. If we ignore everyone else’s morals and simply focus on our own then we have some chance of creating something unique that will achieve its moment of truth. Not from someone else’s point of view and not even from your rational brain’s point of view but something deeper for which we require no justification.
When we build things this way, it’s more truthful, more correct and it creates harmony inside and some how others will also perceive this congruity.
After the Studio school, I seem to toggle between two primary states of existence – interesting and boring. A business or a product or job or work of art can be either interesting or boring. Anything interesting has some chance of a truthful existence. Everything else is…well, a compromise.
Develop a global mindset by working remotely from other countries
I’m writing this while sipping Turkish coffee at a local cafe across the famousHashem Restaurant in Amman (that serves insanely tasty falafel at prices that would put McD to shame). While we live in a globally connected world, we continue to be largely local in mindset. Today’s technology and work culture can help us expose ourselves to a more global mindset in a fairly short amount of time.
When we travel for work, we move from planes to familiar hotels and office buildings. When we travel on a holiday, we see the popular tourist sights. We are never able to live the lives of people whom we could potentially do business with. Our perspectives end up remaining rather skewed, shaped by where we live and the media we consume.
I periodically experiment by working remotely from countries/ regions unrelated to my work/ life so that I can expand my narrow view of the world. It’s really easy to find cheap tickets and it’s a little-known secret that most places in the world are cheaper to live in than your home country. Here’s how and why I do it.
1) 2-3 days are sufficient to build perspective. Just as you don’t need to eat everything on the menu to recommend a restaurant, you really don’t need weeks or months to understand a region. Working out of Jordan for just two days, I learnt nuances of the local tastes (mint leaves and tea tastes great), business (whyJOD is pegged to the dollar), the law (it’s illegal to speak against the king) and grasped the complexity of the Middle East (try answering this question: why is/ isn’t, was/ wasn’t Jordan an ally of the US?) much more deeply than I would ever have from a book or Wikipedia. As is relevant to my work, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the country adapted the Veteran Administration’s VistAelectronic medical record system for its citizens.
2) Wifi, Skype, Whatsapp let you travel globally and live virtually. I have a Skype number that links me to my local cell phone number. So when I call (a smartphone even gives you an option to dial via Skype) or when someone needs to reach me – it’s no different than talking to me when I work from home. Broadband connectivity in most places is decent enough to conduct a normal phone-like conversation and even have Gotomeeting conferences. I worked with people in India, US and South Africa the past few days and this model works like a charm.
3) Figuring out visa, language, currency, travel quickly expands you dramatically. I made my plans to work out of Jordan, 60 hours before I actually traveled. And gave myself 45min last Sunday to make all bookings and finalize logistics. I find that putting myself in sticky situations of dealing with immigration, local language, budgets, currency and travel logistics in a very short time dramatically expands my capability to deal with business complexity and make decisions quickly with less information. I felt yesterday that we must put our leadership team through a similar grind – there can’t be better development training than throwing them in the fire.
4) Managing work remotely is a very important skill. It’s more important for me to be able to get things done than to be able to do so myself. Working remotely forces me to become better at prioritization, delegation and decision making. It allows people who work with me to expand and make decisions on their own, allowing me to scale myself. Managing teams virtually and globally is an increasingly required skill for global business.
5) Creativity happens when the mind interconnects things. Our mind expands creatively by interconnecting things that on the surface seem unrelated. By observing diverse industries and regions at work, I always seem to get a flood of ideas for my own work. 2,200 years ago, Nabataeans who carved the city of Petra (about 4 hours from here) from sandstone and rock actively learnt from other cultures by making it their own. We need more Nabataean-type creativity today than ever before because computer systems are getting much better at left-brain work – we need people who can creatively deploy them.
Several years ago, I came across a Sanskrit expression called Kupamundaka(literally, frog-in-a-well) in a Satyajit Ray movie called Agantuk. The frog thinks that the well is all there is to life, until of course when it finally jumps out. In our rapidly evolving, globalized world, it’s more important than ever to know life outside our own wells.