Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Fire up or Be fired

"If you aren't fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm." - Vince Lombardi

This applies to both workers and managers.

If you are a worker, develop enthusiasm which you put in generous amounts into everything you do. Enthusiasm is infectious. If you are enthused and have an upbeat attitude, you help everyone around you. If you are able to see silver lining even when dark clouds are gathering, you will be well liked and followed by others. As a caution, do not try to sound too pollyanna. Do acknowledge the reality. But, stay positive even when things do not seem all that rosy.

"Fake it till you make it." "If you do not feel good, look good." are two good quotations to remember when we are not able to generate enthusiasm. It is hard to feel enthusiastic all the time. At those times, try to fake it. Soon you will really feel the enthusiasm.

For bosses, if you keep firing your people, soon you will be fired too. Instead of firing, fire your people up with enthusiasm. Very few bosses know how to get the best out of everyone including their bottom performers. It is not that you will be able to transform your bottom performers to super performers. But, you can get the most out of even such people if you fire them up. Easiest way to fire people up is to explain what you expect out of them clearly and then frequently following up. Your super performers may not need much explanation. If you give them broad outlines, they will read in between lines and deliver more than you expect. Average performers will need more explanation and if you spend time to do that, they also deliver more than they normally do. Your bottom performers may need step by step instructions. Don't blame them. Everyone performs in line with their capabilities. You have to play with the cards that have been dealt to you. So, if that's what is required, give them step by step instructions. They will also deliver. Only time you should consider firing people is when you start seeing that people's results differ too much from expectations. There also you have to examine yourself for effectiveness of your own communications.


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"I think I am wise.....but people think otherwise."

Well, no explanation is necessary. One may be wise sometimes. Not always. "None of us is smarter than all of us." "Wisdom of crowds."

It is fine if one considers himself wise and others otherwise. Worse thing is when others considers someone very wise when in reality they are not. It is easy to develop a wrong positive impression of someone because of their appearance, personal charisma or position. Sometimes they also make the best misuse of our such impressions and put us into serious problems. Big time swindlers, cheats etc. are apt at making us believe that they are wiser than they really are. For example, recent multi-billion dollar scandal involving Bernie Madoff. He 'made off' with money right under the nose of people. People thought he was smarter than the whole market because of his past tenure as stock market chairman etc.

"If you do not say anything, people may think you are stupid. If you say something, they become sure." - Abe Lincoln.


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Monday, December 29, 2008


"Don't permit yourself to show temper. Always remember that if you are right you can afford to keep your temper, and if you are wrong you cannot afford to loose it"

One of the best quotations regarding temper. 'While arguing, increase your logic and not your voice.' 'Lose your prejudices. Not your temper."


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"Self-esteem is the reputation we acquire with ourselves." - Nathaniel Branden

"Reputation is what others think of you. Honor is what you think of yourself."

Acceptance of oneself and forgiving oneself are the two most important factors that contribute to self-esteem one has. If you can not first accept the way you are and are not able to forgive yourself, self-esteem suffers. Self-esteem is vital for doing anything. Without self-esteem, every step you take, you watch it so closely that, you are not going to make much progress. Lack of self-esteem creates diffidence. You will crave for validation from others. Once you start looking for security from anywhere but within yourselves, you are like a small boat lost in a big storm of life. You are certainly going to drift away from your chartered course. It's very hard to depend on your inner resources alone for self-esteem and security. But, that's alone what makes you secure or insecure.


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"Idleness is not doing nothing. Idleness is being free to do anything." - Floyd Dell

This is a guilt-reducer quotation. Saves many of us from guilt. We think we are idle when do nothing. But, use this quotation to look at idleness in a different light.


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Action & Inspiration

"We should be taught not to wait for inspiration to start a thing. Action always generates inspiration. Inspiration seldom generates action." - Frank Tibolt

Thought precedes action or action precedes thought? Sounds like which came first? Chicken or egg?

Even a small action can generate a lot of thoughts. Can a thought generate action? Although it seems like thought is the very origin of action, somehow power of thought seems much less than action. "Thought is the action in rehearsal."

Regardless of whether thought can generate action, scriptures say 'thinking is like action already in progress.' Life cycle of an action begins with the thought. That's why they say we do not necessarily have to do bad things, even thinking about them credits sins into our ever bulging sin account.

'Aim to shoot. Shoot to kill.' - can be changed to 'think to act.'


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Sunday, December 28, 2008


"[Sleep is] the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together." - Thomas Dekker

You may have everything - money, fame etc. But, if you can not sleep well, nothing matters. We do not appreciate good sleep much. But, lack of good sleep one day, just one day, can destroy our day completely. Being able to get enough good sleep is no less than a great boon. Good sleep is nourishing. First best thing is if you are able to get required amount of sleep everyday per the same routine. Next best thing is, if you must chose, is to get adequate  sleep regardless of schedule. Sometimes, we can not keep to strict sleep schedule. Somedays we go to bed late. Body has limited tolerance for such deviations.It can make up if you sleep late but also get up late and get the necessary sleep. Lack of sleep is the worst thing. Lack of sleep and on top of that if you have a major activity next day, that's the worst that can happen to anyone. Never wish that even to your worst enemy.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008


"I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by." - Douglas Adams

Nice one. Whooshing sound, if you like, is the only thing to like about deadlines.

Deadlines should be used the way they are meant to be. Deadline comes from a term used in prisons. It is said prisons used to have a line around the perimeter. If anyone tries to escape and crosses that line, it is fair to shoot at that person. Prior to that, all warnings should be given and person trying to escape should be allowed to stop. So, basically once the person crosses the deadline, it is a license to kill.

Raise (the rifle) to aim. Aim to shoot. Shoot to kill. Kill to eat (for hunters).


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Confidence v/s Arrogance

"Confidence - I can do it."

"Arrogance - Only I can do it."

From recent Hindi movie - Ghajini. Sometimes movies also have some nice quotations.

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Shirts & Pants

"If you think US has lost the shirt in the latest economic downturn. India has lost shirt, pant, underwear, banian etc."

Heard in an informal gathering of Indian IT professionals in the US. Earlier, every time economy here went down a little, IT professional in the US used to say they can always go back to India as economy was booming there. With right skills and experience one could make good money. People claimed you could make almost same money as you made in the US. Like if you made $100,000 in the US, you could make close to 40,00,000 in rupees in India. I do not know how much of it was true. But, these were the kind of figures that people used to talk about not too long ago. Even in 2006 and till middle of 2007. People said - your base will be minimum 10 lakhs plus 2 laks per every year of US experience. I somehow felt those salaries were not justified even if some people managed to get that money. May be for some exceptional IT job. But, for most of the jobs, nobody could pay that kind of money in India and still be making money by offshore work.

Now, with IT industry hit badly even in India, some of the people who had chosen to go back to India are planning to come back to US. God knows what their line of thinking is. Why leave a job in India and come back to US to unemployment? Some people say if you lose job in India, there is no safety cushion like unemployment benefits. In US, at least for a while, government pays some form of money for a few months. It is a different matter that what they pay is peanuts. But, something is better than nothing.

Before I read some news reports, I did not believe that IT could be so badly hit in India. With news stories like Infosys asking employees to take a sabbatical with 50% pay, companies canceling offers they made to fresh graduates, decline in campus interviews, drastic cuts in pay and perks etc. started making me believe that things may not be so rosy back there also.

Earlier companies moved jobs to cut cost. Now they have no money at all to get the job done. So, no question of moving at all. They may even default on their payments to Indian companies if they are being bailed out. Also since most of the new government funding in the US is targeted to revive the internal economy, it is not clear how much Indian companies are going to benefit at all.

Last time financial gurus said, invest more in International stocks, bonds and mutual funds concentrating on international markets. International funds have fared worse than domestic funds. If S&P 500 index has been down by 40%, international indices have been down more than that. What gives?

Fundamental question - was this so called wealth creation justified? Not sure.


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"The time to stop talking is when the other person nods his head affirmatively but says nothing." - Henry S. Haskins

Why should we stop talking when the other person nods his head affirmatively but says nothing? Because we are not sure if the person has understood what said. He may have agreed to what we said but what good that would be if he has not understood. People may agree with you for variety of reasons- to please you, to get rid of you, to compromise with you etc. But, they understand only if they are tuned into. Many times we are such bores that people will tune out as soon as we start rambling. With such a reputation, it is better if we stop periodically to make sure that the other person has understood what we are saying.

One way to confirm understanding is to make them repeat what we have just said. Other way is to put some questions and see how well they answer. Whatever, do not waste your breath. If you are going to talk, it is worth doing it well. It is like anything else. If it is worth doing, it is worth doing well.

"Tell them what you are going to tell. Tell them. Tell them what you have just told."


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Friday, December 26, 2008


"Money is not the key to happiness. But, if you have the money, you can buy the key."

"If you can buy yourself out of a problem, it is not a problem at all. It is just an expense. Real problems require real solutions and they are very few."

So, money is very important. "It is okay not to have a lot of money. But, you should also not feel you do not have enough money."

I think there are a very few "problems" that can not be expensed away. You can probably count them on fingers on two hands. Health, happiness, family, friends, spiritual development etc. Rest all money can take care of. Even the real problems can benefit a lot if you have money.

If not anything, having enough money gives you feeling of enormous security. All those small issues do not give you insecurity if you have enough money. It takes money to make money. What does that mean? You have to spend money if you ever want to make money. How do you make money? Easiest path is to get yourself as much educated and marketable as you can. I say easiest because there are a lot of rich people without education. Education is not just what you learnt in and forgot before you left the school. It is what you bring to the table. If your body is your work instrument, education is the fuel that runs it.

It is great if you have inherited or going to inherit money from family sources. Most middle class people can always lean back on family if worse comes to worst. Be thankful for that. Although we take it for granted, there are many who just do not have that cushion at all. On the contrary, they are on the hook to look after their extended family.

How much money is enough? There is no best answer here. Conservatively, if you have readily accessible cash that can last for 1 year or more without affecting your current lifestyle, that's is quite enough. If you have more, that's wonderful. Bare minimum is that. Many will say emergency fund should be 4-6 months of living expenses. I think it is a very low expectation. Especially during current times when it may take much longer to come back on track, God forbid, if you lose your job or if your business goes out of business. Although 2008 was bad, I think it is too early to feel safe that worst is over. If any, it may  just be the beginning. People say the world (especially Western) has had such a run since world war II that our excesses are only getting exposed now and it will take a very long time (more than 3 years optimistically and close to 10 years pessimistically) to stabilize.

Media has not done a good job of instilling optimism in people. Media writes so much about hardships of people due to bad economic times. There is hardly any inspiring piece which describes how we, as humans, have overcome every catastrophe successfully. If anything, we have come out only stronger and more resilient. If not, we would not have been putting ourselves into harder and harder problems every time. That's the spirit of humans. Pushing the envelope all the way. Same thing will happen this time unless God wills otherwise. With that in mind, we should remain hopeful that things will eventually work out. "With time and patience, everything will work out."

"This too shall pass" - pass like what? pass smoothly like fine chocolate melts in your mouth and passes down your throat or painfully like a kidney stone. I think it will be somewhere in between. Nothing difficult has ever passed as smoothly as a fine chocolate. But, I do not believe it will be as painful as passing out a kidney stone either. If it comes to that, surgery will be necessary and will be done by the best surgeon- The God.


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I enjoy writing positive reviews when I find something I like or receive  good service. I also try to downplay occasional frustration with a product or service. In general, try to say good about things I like and say none about the ones did not like. But, from time to time, there comes a company or product which thoroughly disappoints me that I must have to write about them so that public is aware of their poor performance.

Comcast - my cable service provider. This company has not been my favorite any time. I have used their service for cable internet for most of my 11+ years in the US. Cable service is mostly a monopoly business. It appears like 5-6 companies have divided the entire US into exclusive domains. In a given domain, if you want cable service, you need to get from one of them. This probably is the root cause for their poor service.

I had Comcast cable in my previous apartment too. In San Jose. A few months back I moved to my new place in Pleasanton. Since no other cable service provider was available, I had to continue with Comcast. I had hoped that I would just transfer the service to new location without any changes in service and everything would continue without a hitch. How wrong I was.

First, the transfer process itself was pretty painless. I was able to complete the transfer process online after chatting with one of their reps. I provided the date by which old connection should be terminated and new one should begin. I was under the impression that once the old connection was terminated, nothing will transact on the old account. Since I was on auto-pay, they used to bill my credit card on a monthly basis. I thought everything will transfer to my new account.

First disappointment was that they gave me a new account. If I were to know this, I would have opened a new account myself thus allowing myself some nice discounts for first few months. Leave aside discounts. They even billed my old account instead of closing it. Remember it was  on auto-pay. Frustrating but I thought a phone call would rectify that and they would refund me. Once again, how wrong I was.

When they set up connection at my new place, the technician who had come to do installation replaced the modem and took away the old modem. For some reason, that was not recorded at all. I kept getting irritating calls from Comcast asking me to return the modem. I called them up multiple times to inform them that their technician has taken the old modem and they should record it as such. Every time I was told that they would take care of it.

When I called to have the charge on my old account refunded, once again they brought up the fact that they have not received my old modem. Gosh, so frustrating. I explained once again and same response. All set. We will take care of it. Somebody will call you next 4 days to arrange for your refund.

No news for next month or so. I send e-mails to inquire about my refund and believe it or not - same old tune. Modem not returned. So, I call up again. Same story repeats. The rep talks to me, says they will record that modem has  been returned, somebody will call me in next 4 days.

Nothing happens for another month. By this time, I have given up on these losers at Comcast. I called my credit card company and had the charge reversed. At least, I have got the credit now. It's a different matter if Comcast chooses to refute that and I have to engage in a different battle. If it comes to that, let me see. But, what a frustrating experience.

Now that I have learnt this lesson, I disabled my auto-pay. I still pay online but I manually initiate the payment. At least with Comcast, I am not going to let them have access to my credit card at their will. It's for them to loose. Earlier I had set it up so that they could debit my card as soon as the bill was generated. Now, I take my time and pay them a day or two before the deadline. Who is losing? They. What way? Don't have access to money sooner.

What a horrible company - Comcast.

Only positive thing I can say is internet service is reliable. Very few times, it's been down in all the years I have had to endure them.


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"Worry is a misuse of imagination." - Dan Zadra

If so, then 'anxiety' is a gross misuse of imagination. What do you say?

Worry is also when spot light of imagination shines on a wrong object.

"Worry, hurry and curry make you sick." Do not know about curry. But, worry and hurry certainly cause sickness. Curry can be given benefit of doubt. I believe worry and hurry thin your stomach lining. Thin stomach lining can not take curry. So, it is not the fault of curry. That may be the reason why they say - 'it is not what you eat but what is eating you makes you sick.' What is eating us? Worry.

One way to deal with worry is to understand locus of control. If we become clear about what is within our control and what is not, it goes a long way in reducing worry. "If there is a solution, find it. If there is none, never mind it." Every worry has some aspects which are our under control. We can certainly work on those aspects and see what we can do to take care of them. Similarly, each worry may have some aspects that are not under our control, we should not worry about them and let them play out as they should.

"I have had many misfortunes in my life. Most of them never came true." - Mark Twain. I think Mark Twain was lucky. He probably did not worry too much about imaginary misfortunes. Many of us much better worrying about imaginary misfortunes. We are so good that we actually make such misfortunes happen to ourselves. The power of imagination is very strong. It is capable of making things happen. It cuts both side. If we think about positive things, we can also make them happen. "We can make ourselves miserable. Or we can learn something from every situation. Effort for both of these is the same. Choice is up to us."

"First do what is necessary. Then do what is possible. If you follow the first two, you will soon be doing what is impossible." - Saint Francis of Assisi.

"People worry about what they should be eating between Christmas and New Year. In fact, they should be worrying about what they eat between New Year and Christmas."

Worry less. Be happy.


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Thursday, December 25, 2008


"Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live." - Oscar Wilde

Thank you Oscar Wilde. You made my day. Thanks for taking away some of the guilt.

Sometimes when we read about great sacrifices by people, we may feel guilty thinking that we are too selfish. We may feel that we do not do much to help humanity at large. Small amounts of donations that we may give, little bit of volunteering work we do etc. may not look much compared to sacrifices some people make to help relieve the pains of others.

Oscar Wilde offers a different perspective. By his definition, it seems it is pretty easy to be not selfish. Just do not expect people to toe to your line.

I think not being selfish seems pretty easy. But, being selfless, that's is a lifelong endeavor.


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"I'm tired of all this nonsense about beauty being only skin-deep. That's deep enough. What do you want, an adorable pancreas?" - Jean Kerr

Funny indeed. "Adorable pancreas" - that's too much. There may be lively liver, gorgeous glands, terrific @#$@#$, beautiful @#@s, colorful !@#@ etc. So, it's enough that beauty is skin deep.

"Beauty is skin deep. But, ugliness goes deep down to bones."

"Beauty is in the eyes of the beer holder." (meaning after a couple of beers, your definition of beauty may change.)

"Beauty like contact lens is in the eye of the beholder."

Beauty - subjective. Are there universally beautiful entities? May be - super models, breath taking sceneries etc. - I think everyone will acknowledge these as beautiful.

Can everyone be beautiful? Yes - at least all parents find their children beautiful. They may even make it up.

Is beauty helpful? You bet. "First impression is the last impression." for most people. So, people who are easy on eyes seem to make better first impressions. It's different story afterwards when their not-so-beautiful attributes start showing up.

Can beauty and brains exist together? For sure. Seen many such people. Can beauty and modesty exist together? May be. Is it too hard for beautiful people when they lose physical beauty? Yes, if they do not understand the natural aging process. Sensible people age so gracefully that they look beautiful in any way.

Can anyone increase their beauty? Why not? - market is full of beautification aids. Individual mileage may vary.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008


"Life is just a mirror, and what you see out there, you must first see inside of you." - Wally 'Famous' Amos

Sometimes it feels like all that we see outside is also visible inside ourselves. When we fail to see such things within ourselves, God has to make an unpleasant choice of magnifying that and make us see it in the outside world. It feels like - 'sometimes explosion has to loud enough for deaf to hear." Explosion may result in serious damage, but deaf won't hear it in any other way.

Every time a large scale violence happens, I think it is just a reflection of violence within ourselves. We have not cared to attend to such violence in our individual selves and God has had to enact it on a larger screen of life so that we all see the drama and learn from it. When we hear major financial scams like the one recently pulled off by Madoff, it is nothing but greed in our hearts. We let greed fester so long in our hearts that it had to spill over sometimes.

God's hammer (GK Chesterson?) works that way. When we do not learn from gentle instructions and stray away and about make a serious mistake, God has to bring down his mighty hammer on our faltering knuckles. It hurts to be hit that way but it is much less of a hurt than what we can potentially cause ourselves if God were not to take such action.


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Said & Done

"After all is said and done, there is more said than done."

"Under commit, over deliver."

"Say less, do more"

All these quotations belong to the same category.

"After all said and done, there is more said than done." - many people leave most meetings with this feeling most of the time. Why? Why meetings produce much hot air and very less action? I think it is due to poor planning, inadequate preparation from attendees and poor facilitation. Meeting facilitation has not been recognized as a profession. Okay, I have seen some companies, during good times, hire outside professional facilitators for important meetings. I have not personally attended one. But, people who attended such meetings came back with great reviews of such professionally facilitated meetings.

Some tips to get most out of meetings.

1) Always have an agenda. Sometimes we need to meet to discuss. Such meetings are better labeled as knowledge sharing sessions and should be called as such to set right expectations. If the meeting is scheduled without an agenda, ask for one. If you are in a position to make a difference, tell them that you will not attend any meeting which does not have a well defined agenda. It is not possible all the time. So, in such cases, go with your own agenda. Meetings without agenda break into a chaos soon. If you have even a rough agenda, you can push that.

2) Try to carve out at least 30 minutes before and after the meeting to prepare for and debrief respectively. It is difficult sometimes when meetings get scheduled back to back. But, if there is time before and after the meeting, block them as soon as you accept a meeting request.

3) When last 20 minutes remain, start asking for an action plan. If you have spent 40 minutes talking, you need at least 20 more minutes to consolidate all that discussion into action plans. Good facilitators plan as such.

4) Develop a culture of discipline around meetings. This is a difficult one. Unless you are in an influential position, it is going to be hard to do this. "Fish always rots from the head down." Hope you work in a place where everyone from the top down are disciplined about meetings. People who are not disciplined about meetings they attend are not professionals. By this definition, most people and their behavior in meetings rules them out as professionals. Sad but true today.


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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Economy and economists etc.

President Truman once said - "I want an one-handed economist. I do not want him to be able to say 'on the other hand' on any issue." It seems Truman was frustrated with opinions of economists. He was livid that they could not give one conclusive opinion on anything. Why blame only economists? All professionals are like that. Given a chance, we all want a one-handed lawyer, doctor and so on. If it comes to software professionals, people may say we want software folks who have no hands at all. Because software professionals are known to imagine that they have more than two hands and provide opinions on the same issue using all hands. If agenda for software meetings read like 'first half, second half, third half and remaining time', you can imagine how conclusive their opinions may be on any issue.

Now with economy tanking, jokes about economics and economists are abound. "Economists have predicted 12 of the last 9 recessions." Go figure.

You can find more jokes about economists at - There are some really good ones out there.


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Monday morning blues

Everybody has problems on Monday morninsg. Beginning of the new week, all unfinished work from the previous week, time wasted during the week end, all the work we wanted to do over the weekend but never did, all come together. On top of it, if you get any new personal or other problems (say flat tire or a minor accident) on Monday morning, it feels like the whole world is out to get you. They say 'black Monday' for a reason. Majority of the heart attacks in the work place are reported to occur between 9 AM and 11 AM on Mondays. You can verify part of this information at - It does not state the time window. But, some other source on the internet has that information too. Following is from the above link.


Black Monday Syndrome

More fatal heart attacks occur on Monday than on any other day of the week. Why? It’s called Black Monday syndrome. How could our hearts know what day of the week it is?

You’re feeling trapped — out of control, not challenged and stressed from your job. Fix these and even the phenomenon of Black Monday can be overcome, although the so-called solution to fixing stress is not that simple. Stress-causing conditions at work and at home can contribute to your overall sense of loss of control.


A quotation comes to mind - "Everybody has problems on Monday mornings. Smart people also have Monday morning problems but they are working on next Monday morning's problems."

This quotation was said with respect to project managers. But, I think anybody can relate to that. Only way to avoid monday morning blues is to plan ahead and get work done well in advance. If we use Fridays and if required Thursdays well to plan for the next week or at least part of next week, we can avoid many problems on Monday. One effective way is to block out time on your calendar on every Thursday and Friday to plan your next week. If required, plan to do some work over the weekend so that you can start Monday in as relaxed mode as possible.


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"We can't take any credit for our talents. It's how we use them that counts." - Madeleine L'Engle

Similar quotation that comes to mind is - "what you are is God's gift to you. What you make of yourself is your gift to God."

Another one is -"your knowledge is only as deep as your action."

We may be able to take some credit for our talents. If we have worked hard for them, we can take some credit for them. If a musician  has practiced day and night for many years, I think it is fair to let him or her bask in glory a bit. Denying that does not seem very fair. So, talents acquired by one's hard work deserve some leniency. Others are merely circumstantial. For such talents and characteristics, we can only be thankful and not proud.

I think somebody said - "I am not concerned about my talents. I am more concerned about the talents that I have but do not know." This is so true. We are many times not aware of our talents at all. Only way to figure them out is to keep doing different things. Some things click and some do not. Some things we enjoy and some things we do not. That's how we figure out where our talents are.

Talent needs to be nurtured. Innate talent goes only so far. If we want a talent that serves us well then we need to practice a lot. Some great musician said -"If I do not practice for a month, my audience will notice. If I do not practice for a week, my family will notice. If I do not practice for a day, I will notice."


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Pennies and dollars

"Politeness and consideration for others is like investing pennies and getting dollars back." - Thomas Sowell

Politeness, I think, many of us understand fairly well. Consideration? Not sure. Suppose, you walk into a room full of strangers who are busy with something and nobody raises their head to acknowledge that you have walked in. How does that feel? It feels weird. Is it not? I say those people did not show any consideration to you at all. Not saying that they did anything wrong. But, consideration was not there. If even one of them raises their head, looks at you and smiles at you, you feel so much better. Now they have shown you some consideration. I write about this because this comes to my mind as one very common situation when we miss showing consideration to others.

Granted, you are very busy with something. But, taking a moment to acknowledge the stranger and asking a simple question 'how may I help you?' goes a long way. The stranger may have a simple question. Or he may be lost in the building or something. It is hard for him or her to face a group of strangers who seem to be very busy with something.

Another thing is we also have to be careful so that we do not feel that we did not get any consideration at all. Sometimes we are not sensitive to people's schedule and drop in without any announcement or prior appointment. That upsets people. If you develop such a habit, people think showing no consideration to you is the only way to get rid of you. So, plan your work  and the time you need from others. If you work that way, chances are good that you will receive consideration. "Your lack of planning does not constitute urgency on my part."

Another aspect of consideration is what  I call consideration from facilitators and leaders. Sometimes as a meeting facilitator you have to make it a point to remember quieter type of people of the group.You have to make an extra effort to bring such people into dialog. They appreciate that too. Just prod them gently and they will open up. If you, as a meeting facilitator, do not show this consideration, then you are going to miss on important inputs that quieter people may have. It is for you to lose. You may only get the inputs of loud mouthed people which may lead to biased decision making.

Another aspect of consideration is remembering and acting on your promises. If you commit to doing something for someone, either deliver as committed or renegotiate your commitment well in advance. We all make commitments in good faith. Sometimes after we start working on them, they seem to take longer. That's the time to stop what we are doing and spend the necessary time to renegotiate our commitment. If we do not take time to do that, we may blow up our commitment and that will be sure lack of consideration. In a way, it is better to factor in time for such items in the original commitment.

Acknowledge, acknowledge and acknowledge.....that's the heart of consideration. People do not care much if you agree or disagree with them. What they care for is your acknowledgement. If you hear other person's point  and make sure that they know that you have heard them, that's acknowledgement. This simple act is a big consideration. One thing to be careful about is to make sure that they understand the difference between acknowledgement and agreement. They are different. Many times people see that you have acknowledged and mistakenly assume that you have agreed too. Be clear about it. Even when you are making a case for something, be sure to get what you want - mere acknowledgement or agreement. If you are looking for agreement, be sure to ask for it explicitly than assuming that if people have not contradicted you means that they have agreed.


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Monday, December 22, 2008


"You have succeeded in life when all you really want is only what you really need." - Vernon Howard

I think a wise chinese man said -"all I need is a bowl of rice and a glass of water." That is nirvana when all we want is absolutely only that we need. Gandhi said - "there is enough in this world for everyone's need but not for anyone's greed."

I feel lesser we have lesser the clutter we have to put up with. People say they travel light. I say we should live light. Two suitcases. Be mobile and you will see how free you will feel. You are your own master. More you own and want much more, they are like handcuffs even if they are golden handcuffs. They tie you more and more to where you are. Every time you need to take a tough decision, you have to take stock of all that you have and chart your course accordingly. Own a house? then chances are you are not going to move to far off place for a different job even if you are miserable in your current job. I advocate living lightly just to keep my choices wide and open.

Every time something breaks down, I feel good these days. I junk it and never bother to buy another one unless it is something I absolutely need it. It's been a life long mission reduce clutter. Documents? Scan them and throw them into a terra byte hard drive. If you are worried about your hard disk, try to get some space online and store them there. But, do something about the junk that accumulates. Rent everything you can own. Money? Should be accessible from anywhere with your laptop.Car? Something which has good market value and people should be willing to buy it off your lot if you choose to sell it. Electronic stuff? Don't buy gadgets unless you really need them. Music system? Better buy a great sound system and stream to it from your laptop. Huge TV? I do not know. I would not get one. I would rather buy an expensive laptop with largest screen available and watch online.

One clutter that I am still trying reduce is a huge collection of books. I know many of those books are outdated and nobody wants them. But, somehow I do not feel like throwing them away. May be I must do that to reduce my clutter. Books come on so many diverse subjects that I feel like keeping them for life. May be I should try online or electronic readers like kindle.

Hey, anytime for ready for anything to reduce clutter. Two suitcases. That should be mantra if we want to be truly mobile. More the clutter more you are stuck to where you are.


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"If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich." - John F. Kennedy (1917 - 1963), inaugural address, January 20, 1961

I think this is a quotation to remember every time we feel resentment towards schemes helping the poor with our tax money. If every part of society is not well off, none of us are going to be really well off. Everyone should have at least basic needs met. It's like  body. If one organ is not well, the whole body feels the pain. You have two options, either treat the organ or amputate it. Amputations do not work all the time. Even when they work, they result in permanent loss. So, it is better to take care of the whole body.

I do not believe late president Kennedy meant that we should simply dole out hand-outs to poor. It should be need based. If there are people in the society who just do not want to work, it is a different matter. We will have to understand what is wrong in our social set up which has created such people in the first place. Nobody becomes a liability to society just like that. It is probably the circumstances that made them like that. So, we have to address the root cause. May be it is lack of education or something else.

Humans can only survive as a symbiotic group. There are no other ways. Everyone has to be able to live with their basic needs met. Only then some of us can be well off compared to others.

We can even take this one step further. How about animals? If number of animals we have around is not controlled, they will be on our streets. We see this in developing countries. Innumerable dogs, cats and cattle are left to tend to themselves. They create so much problems on the urban infrastructure that they can bring a city to halt. We have to control their numbers in the first place. At least we have an option to put them to sleep without much pain. Although it pricks our heart to do so, we at least have an option. But, better option is to control their number is in the first place by neutering them in the first place.


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Sunday, December 21, 2008


"We're all in this alone." -  Lily Tomlin

Probably the policeman in this news piece felt that way (i.e. being alone).

Read it for yourself at -

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Consensus v/s complete agreement

"You don't have to see eye to eye to walk hand in hand." Rick Warren - pastor and public speaker

This is a fairly recent quote. Rick Warren, who has been invited by president elect Obama, to deliver invocation address at the time of Obama's inauguration, said this. People criticized Obama for inviting Warren because Warren does not approve of same-sex marriages. He also does not endorse many policies of democrats. Warren is famous for his insightful comments was ready with a great quotation to drive home this  important point. Great quotation.

It will be so nice if we also can learn from this quotation. It is only natural that we do not agree with each other on everything. But, that is not a reason not to cooperate and support each other. We can always find  common ground on many things and forget or put our differences on the back burner for greater good.

Many times we tend to mistakenly think that 'consensus' mean complete agreement. It does not have to mean complete agreement. It many times does not. Then what does consensus mean? Consensus simply means that 'I have heard your point of view. I acknowledge it and support it.' That's it. Supporting something does not require full agreement. It only requires complete commitment.

Understanding this meaning of consensus is very important in our days of consensus based decision making. I think we all agree that command and control type of management is no more in vogue. At least not in corporate world. With knowledge based economy, expecting other smart professionals to heed to your command is a totally wasteful activity. On the other hand, we can not also afford to deliberate for too long to reach  absolute agreement from all parties. What we can do is - to make the best possible presentation of our ideas, present our side very persuasively and then drive to consensus (i.e. above given definition).

One very useful technique to obtain consensus is called 'Fist of five'. It's a very simple technique and can be used in almost any scenario where you need to put an idea for discussion and get some decision made.

For more details about fist of five, you can refer to - There are many such places on the web which describe the technique very well.

Basically, process is simple. You ask the participants to indicate their level of agreement to an idea by raising the number of fingers.

From the above link, the details:


Fist (no fingers raised)

A no vote - a way to block consensus. I need to talk more on the proposal and require changes for it to pass.

1 Finger

I still need to discuss certain issues and suggest changes that should be made.

2 Fingers

I am more comfortable with the proposal but would like to discuss some minor issues.

3 Fingers

I’m not in total agreement but feel comfortable to let this decision or a proposal pass without further discussion.

4 Fingers

I think it’s a good idea/decision and will work for it.

5 Fingers

It’s a great idea and I will be one of the leaders in implementing it.

If anyone holds up fewer than three fingers, they should be given the opportunity to state their objections and the team should address their concerns. Teams continue the Fist-to-Five process until they achieve consensus (a minimum of three fingers or higher) or determine they must move on to the next issue.)


This is a great technique for decision making process. You need to worry only about a few folks who may have raised 1 or 2 fingers Even if there are many people who do not agree, you get a real good feel for where you stand with your idea. This also does not result in majority overriding the minority.

Of course, there may be some people who can not be convinced at all to come at least to the level of three fingers. Then there is a stalemate. You may need to use some other technique or look really hard at the merits of your idea or if everyone else agrees and the disagreeing member(s) are seen as detractors without merit, you may need to kick them out from your team.

Fist of five is a great technique. Agile teams use this for all purposes. Try it with your team and you will love it.


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Getting up

"Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in getting up every time we do." - Confucius

Another similar quotation - "best way to recover from a fall while riding a horse is to get back on one (horse) right away."

I think we have lot to learn from babies. Babies, as part of their learning process, tumble, fall and when left to themselves, get themselves up and continue. At the same time, if anyone shows a visible concern, they start crying. They forget their auto-programmed response when someone shows a concern. Instead of getting themselves up after a fall, babies get confused by the concern shown by elders and start crying.

Same thing happens to adults also. Most of us seem to do well when we are left alone or in the company of 'mature' adults when we are going through some problems. Worst people to have around when we are dealing with a crisis are those with fear complex. They are more panicky than we are and make our condition worse. If you are sensible, when someone tells you that they have a problem, all you need to ask is 'how can I help?'. That's it. Do not ever try to offer advice and suggestions when the person going through the crisis has not yet figured out what the real problem is. If you know you get worried about someone's problem, leave the person alone. Once the person has figured out what his problem is, he can ask you for advice and you can offer all that you have to offer.

Soldiers returning from active duty were found to have a lot of problems. Mostly psychological. Initially doctors thought it was the trauma during the war that was the root cause of their problems. It was true to some extent. But, later they figured out, it was also due to the fact that soldiers were only partly occupied when they came back from active duty. It was lack of full involvement in some activity which caused them more problems than trauma suffered during the war. So, they devised what they called 'work therapy' or keeping them busy. Soldiers who came back from duty were let to unite with families on the base but were strongly discouraged to take time off unless they were physically hurt and needed to rest. Else, they were put on a full day regimen of work which included standard schedule of drills, on-the-base work, helping the community etc. Objective was to wear them out completely during the day so that they did not think and think themselves to getting sick. Work therapy works marvels for anyone. Less you think during the time of crisis is better. More you act opens up the possibilities. This is not to mean that you simply act recklessly and put yourselves in more precarious condition but you start doing something instead of analysis to paralysis. It is the action which gets you closer to solution to your problems than mere thinking.


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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Real Strength

"Real strength is not just a condition of one's muscle, but a tenderness in one's spirit." - McCallister Dodds

This was not the exact picture I was looking for. But, this comes close enough. A gentle baby happily cradling in the giant arms of a wrestler was the picture that came to my mind as I thought about this quotation.

Another incident that comes to mind is the end of one of India-Pakistan wars. If you see the surrendering ceremony of Pakistan, you will how well it was handled. The surrendering Pakistani general and his troops were received in their full uniforms with all respect, given all privileges and when they signed off on official surrendering papers, their admiration for their victors was so well obvious on their faces.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Is it the mountain or the grain of sand in your shoe?

"Be master of your petty annoyances and conserve your energies for the big, worthwhile things. It isn't the mountain ahead that wears you out - it's the grain of sand in your shoe." - Robert Service

Enormity of the mountain that you want to climb may be daunting at the outset but it is going to be that one grain of sand, if in your shoes, is going to give you  hell of a time while climbing that mountain. It may even become the determining factor if you can scale the mountain at all.

This is one of the best quotations that drove home the point perfectly.

You know, I have observed one thing. Many times it is the clutter on our work area that discourages us from starting the project. As soon as you clear the clutter and organize your work area, you somehow feel motivated to start the project. Take care of small things and bigger things start taking care of themselves. Small things when done well lead to good results. Good result is not a small thing.

"Don't sweat the small stuff. It's all the small stuff." - Ignore, attend to and do whatever necessary to take care of minor issues first. Without such things out of your way, nothing significant is going to happen. It is also a good way to remember this quotation while doing retrospection or analyzing something that is not going well.


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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Laughing at mistakes

"Laughing at our mistakes can lengthen our own life. Laughing at someone else's can shorten it." - Cullen Hightower

Laughing at our own mistake serves at least two important purposes. First, I believe it can act as self-forgiveness Many times we are way too hard on ourselves for mistakes we have committed. I think laughing is a good way to write them off after we have made an effort to learn from them.

Second, I think laughing at our own mistakes in front of others makes others feel that we too are like them. I have seen good leaders do that with their teams. This helps forge better relationship with everyone you work with. Many times people tend to stay away from leaders thinking that leaders are far superior and may look down upon common people. By laughing at your own mistakes in front of others, people develop a different kind of respect for you.

There is another important use as well. By being the first one to laugh at your own mistakes,you have taken away the ability of others to be the first one to do that. It is much easier to take when we ourselves laugh at our mistakes than when others do that. This is a great neutralizing technique for leader. As a leader, there are always people who want to find faults in everything you do. Since you are a doer, you do end up making mistakes every now and then. At those times, if you are  wound up too tight and fail to admit your mistakes, people are going to criticize you heavily and it may tarnish your image. So, always be the first one to laugh at your own mistakes.

Self-deprecating humor is not bad at all. We just have to be careful that we do not act like and become a joker. That's all. We should only use this when we realize we have made a mistake. We should not use this to deprecate ourselves to win over other people. People are pretty good at spotting phonies. So, do not go on deprecating yourself all the time.

Laughing at someone else's mistakes is totally different. Never do that. Use the time and effort to learn from other people's mistakes. It is the most cost effective way to learn.If you always learn only from your own mistakes, you will learn very little and life is not long enough to do that. Always encourage others to laugh at their own mistakes by setting an example of laughing at your own mistake too. Once laughed at by the person who has committed the mistakes, mistakes are seen in a different light altogether. The focus shifts from mistakes. The spotlight moves to what we can learn from those mistakes. Everyone benefits.


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Saturday, December 13, 2008


"Most people ignore most poetry  because  most poetry ignores most people." - Adrian Mitchell

Very funny indeed.

This quotation provided some explanation to my personal lack of interest in any poetry. Right from early days I have seen that any sort of serious poetry has never appealed to me. It does not to many people. This quotation made me think why it may be so.

First, poetry, by it's very nature, seems to make an inordinate amount of effort to say something in a very convoluted fashion. You really need a different mindset to understand what the author may be trying to say. On the other hand, prose is simple, fast read and direct.

Only poetry that ever appealed to me is some witty poetry with perfect rhyming words. They can pack a lot of punch.

This is not to demean poetry at all. There are special people, I myself know some,  who can take hours to read and reflect on few short stanzas of a poem. After that they can write pages of prose interpreting the same. That's a different interest and talent. But, for most people above quotation sums it up very well.


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Be visible to get it

"Only some people get what they want. Those are the people who show up to get it." Dianne Houston, Take The Lead, 2006

Woody Allen said something similar - 'success is 90% showing up.' You can modify it as - 'success is 90% showcasing your show-off.'

It is very natural feel cynical when we see people who have not worked hard garner all the limelight and get some occasional success. There are several ways to logically interpret this phenomenon. First, when we brand someone as a person who did not deserve success for something he did not do, we many times do not know the full story. We hear someone make such an allegation and take their word. Somebody says 'Hey my boss took all the credit for my work. He is a fool and did not do anything. It's all me who did the work.' It's easy to fall into this trap. Boss and people in higher positions are easy targets. They are not required to do the actual work you do but still they get the credit. What we fail to see is that they are held accountable and responsible for actions, including yours. They also have to take the blame should you and fellow workers fail. It all comes with risk.

Secondly, what we get in this life does not depend only what we have done or not done only in this life alone. Life is a continuity. It does not start with birth and end with death. If anything, birth and death are just two imaginary marks we put on a continuity called life. It is like putting some indicators on another continuity called time. Is there any special meaning that marking time? It's for our point of reference. So, if someone gets something that seems undeserving to us, it may be for something they did it right in the past. We do not even bother to understand what they did a few months back. Never mind what they may have done few lives back. They say what we are today is a result of what we did yesterday. We will be what we are going to today. It is like an arrow which has already left the bow. It's a matter of time before it strikes. If it is a good arrow or a one with poisoned tip is what we knew when we shot it. Now we have to face the consequences.

On the point of 'success in 90% showing up' another excellent quote comes to mind. It goes like this.

"Less risk. Less reward. That's business"

"More risk. More reward. That's gambling."

"Less risk. More Reward. That's opportunity"


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"The only paradise is paradise lost." - Marcel Proust

'Pradise Lost' is an epic by great poet Milton.

I am not sure what to make of this quotation. Is  Marcel Proust saying that there is no paradise at all and anything closest is that epic 'paradise lost'?

Paradise and hell are right here on earth. We make them. It is for us to create paradise and hell for ourselves. We seem to be very adept at creating hell more often than paradise. Most of us pass through  life without getting the glimpse of paradise even once. At the same time while we are creating hell for ourselves and others, we are busy imagining 'paradise' as somewhere we can probably reach after death. If there is no body after death and if our imagination of paradise is of a place where we can have a great time, how's that possible?

Be well. Do good work. Be good to others. Paradise is right here. Violate the rules, hell is right around corner.

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Monday, December 08, 2008


"A predictable organization does not guess about the future and call it a plan; it develops the capacity to rapidly respond to the future as it unfolds." Mary Poppendieck

This is from the book 'The Software Project Manager's Bridge to Agility". Good book. Compares PMI's PMBOK practices to agile practices. Does a good job of dispelling myths about how PMI processes and agile process are not compatible. I think it is a good read for any manager. Especially good for PMPs who are not yet sold on agile project management.

Mary Poppendieck is a thought leader when it comes to agile development and management. She is probably one of the earliest people to bring good principles of lean manufacturing to software development. She has written a couple of books. Both are great reads.

It appears lean is the most 'in' thing in agile world these days. People are experimenting with Kanban style development. Reducing the inventory, waste etc. Principles are heavily borrowed from Toyota's legendary auto manufacturing practices.

More on these at some other time.

Happy reading!!


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Thursday, December 04, 2008


"Keeping your clothes well pressed keeps you from looking hard pressed." - Coleman Cox

Great quote! So, keeping your clothes well pressed keeps you from looking hard pressed from what? Time, money or something else. Depends I guess.

At least keeping your clothes well pressed will be easy on the eyes of others. That's the least we can do to people who have to put up with us. Wrinkle free clothes. Never bought that theory. Clothes need at least basic pressing after they are washed. With modern irons it is pretty easy to keep your ward robe in great condition. OK, pure cotton can be little tough. Little bit of starch can help. They have even made that easy. You can find ready-made starch in sprayable bottle. What a convenience.

"If you do not feel good, at least look good." It is hard to feel good all the time, but looking in your presentable best is always possible.


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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Planning & Plan

"Plans are useless but planning is indispensable." - President Eisenhower

Plans, especially when followed without caring for changing reality, are useless and can be fatal. But, planning is very useful. Seems very contradictory. But, the point is planning is very useful because of the thought process that goes into it. After that if you can commit that thought process on to the paper, it become imprinted on your mind and you are ready to execute per the planning process.

What happens  many times is that, plans are developed in a hurry by filling out some random templates. After that they are let to gather dust on the shelves. Later when a need arises to refer to plans, plans are referred and executed per the plan without taking into account reality which may have changed during that time.

Best practice is to constantly plan and execute based on the insights generated. Planning is a continuous activity. It should be driven by constant feedback which fuels additional planning and so on.

"Plan the work. Work the plan."

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Enterprise rent-a-car

Recently, I had to rent a car for a few days. Like before, went with Enterprise Rental Car. They are convenient for several reasons. They are in many locations. They work with many body shops and insurance companies. They bill directly to insurance companies etc. Most importantly, they are good with picking you up and dropping  you off. All good and nice things.

One thing that really bugged me is that both the time I rented car  this month, the gas tank was never full. Of course, they do not ask you to return the car with full tank. They ask you to return the car with exactly same amount of gas. But, it is so damn hard to return with exact same amount of gas when it is like 5/8 nth full etc. For example, I am sure I returned the car last time with at least 3-4 gallons of extra gas. That means like 10 bucks. That is loss to me. Who pays for it?

Enterprise and many car companies should make absolutely certain that they rent cars with a full tank of gas. No exceptions. I realize that  many of these car rental companies do not have gas filling facilities on the premises and that may be a reason why they are unable to rent with full tank of gas. But, I have see the same problem while renting from airport facilities. All in all a very lousy and frustrating business practice.


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Pelvis - Elvis

"By sticking guitar in one's pelvis, you can't make him or her an Elvis."

Funny quote. The way I understood is - you can not make someone an expert in something by giving him a gift or training or something. One can hope to come anywhere close to Elvis only if he or she practices guitar for a long time with perseverance. No shortcut to success than hard work coupled with some amount of intelligence and a pinch of luck.


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Thursday, November 20, 2008


OK, elections are over. Thanks for that. Enough of that over last two years.

Personally I would have liked to see Hillary Clinton become president. But, unfortunately she did not. If things were to be good, I would not have minded McCain. But, his party has not led us to anything better in last 8 years. On the contrary, it has become a war mongering party. Can not give them another chance to wage wars on more countries. So, although I have a lot of respect for McCain, his experience and service, he could not get votes. So, had to settle with Obama. Let's see what he is going to do. If not anything, he and democrats do not seem to start any new wars. Less we do wars, better we will be. Hopefully, we will learn that lesson.

Fist time in life, I voted. Although, I was a qualified voter in India, I was never there at election times. So, had not voted even once since getting voting eligibility. Happy to have voted at least once. It had to be in US. That's ok.

Funny thing, a distant relative of mine once voted in my name in India. Brave of him. He just went to voting booth, told my name and voted. This, I guess, was much before they came up with voting ID cards. I still remember going to some vague place in Bangalore in the very early morning sometime in 1996 to get pictures taken for voter ID card. It was TN Seshan's time and voting card mania at peak. God knows what happened to voting card. Do not remember ever having received that.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008


"The pessimist complains about the wind;
The optimist expects it to change;
The realist adjusts the sails."
-  William Arthur Ward

Any day, I will take an optimist if a realist is not available or realist is a way too much of realist.

"Pessimist - Person who knows price of everything and value of nothing."

"Mind is a darkroom where negatives are developed." Pessimists have a really large dark room and their apparatus is very busy developing negatives.

"There is a positive to every situation however bleak it may look like. Challenge is to go after the positive and find it."

"In any challenging situation, you can make yourself feel miserable or you can make yourself strong. Effort involved in either of them is the same."


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New definition of old finance terms

Picked these up from somewhere on the net. Enjoy!!!

CEO - Chief Embezzlement Officer.

CFO - Corporate Fraud Officer.

BULL MARKET — A random market movement causing an investor to mistake himself for a financial genius.

BEAR MARKET — A 6 to 18 month period when the kids get no allowance, the wife gets no jewellry, and the husband gets no sex.

VALUE INVESTING — The art of buying low and selling lower.

P/E RATIO — The percentage of investors wetting their pants as the market keeps crashing.

BROKER — What my broker has made me.

STANDARD & POOR — Your life in a nutshell.

STOCK ANALYST — Idiot who just downgraded your stock.

FINANCIAL PLANNER — A guy whose phone has been disconnected.

MARKET CORRECTION — The day after you buy stocks.

CASH FLOW — The movement your money makes as it disappears down the toilet.

WINDOWS — What you jump out of when you’re the sucker who bought Reliance Power at Rs. 550.00 per share.

INSTITUTIONAL INVESTOR — Past year investor who’s now locked up in a nut house.

PROFIT — An archaic word no longer in use.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Newton, Einstein and Frankenstein come together

"We live in Newtonian world, with Einsteinian laws and with Frankensteinian logic." - David Russesl

Looking at our own logic from time to time, it is no wonder our logic has become Frankenstenian. Too convoluted. Simplicity has vanished. Nothing simple appeals to us. It has to be complex. Even better if it is complicated. Simple is better than complex. Complex is better than complicated.

"Power of Simplicity" should be a must-read for everyone. It separates complex chaff from simple wheat.

"It is simple to be happy. It is difficult to be simple."

Simplicity starts with making with least amount of things. More things, more complicated the life is. More ownership, more headaches. Reduce ownership and start seeing the simplicity everywhere you go. Why own when you can rent at a fraction of cost and simplicity?

Btw, Frankenstein has not vanished all together. If you go to Universal Studio in Los Angeles, there is still a model who goes around wearing the mask of Frankenstein. Take a picture with him and carry it always in wallet. Everytime complexity rears it ugly head in your head, remember to stare at the picture of Frankenstein.


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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Rock Bottom

"Rock bottom is the rock to use for foundation to build (success) on."  - JK Rowling at Harvard University's commencement address - June 2008.

Google for JK Rowling's speech and listen to it. It is one of the most inspiring speeches I have heard in recent times. I did not expect someone who wrote reams of pulp fiction to speak so inspiringly. JK Rowling's speech will leave inspired and convince you that failure is not only uncommon but very much needed for one to be successful.

As I thought about the speech in general and above line in particular, it provided a lot of meaning to 'rock bottom'. Rock bottom - height of any depth or climax of something in negative direction. So, rock bottom is the height of failure. It is probably called 'rock bottom' because it serves as a really strong rock to build solid foundation on which you can build castle of success.

Good luck hitting the rock bottom. Remember, you need a strong foundation to build anything of lasting value. And  for good foundation, you need a good rock - rock bottom.

Btw, this is the same JK Rowling who wrote 'Harry Potter' series of best selling books.


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Balance sheet - current condition

"Nothing is right on the left side. Nothing is left on the right side."

This is the joke going around about balance sheets of many companies during these stressful financial times. Glad that people are able to find humor during these times.

You need to re-format the balance sheet for this to make sense. Left side includes assets and liabilities. Right side is shareholder equity. Balance sheet's equation is : Assets - Liabilities = Shareholder Equity. So per the above joke, nothing is right in assets and liabilities. Nothing is right on the left side - certainly true for assets, especially of banks. They can not value many assets on their balance sheet. They have many mortgages as assets on which people have hard time making monthly payments. Nothing is left on the right side. This means there is no shareholder equity left. Imagine holding onto useless shares of now defunct banks such Lehman Brothers. They may fetch some rare antique value after some time.


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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Never before

"If you want something that you never had before, then you have to do something that you have never done before."

Never before - never had heard 'never before' used so well in any place, let alone in a quote.

Want something that you never had before? Then do something that you have never done before. It does not have to be totally alien to you. Even if you have never done 'that' before, there must be others who have been there and done that. Follow the experts. Don't they say - ' dwarf on the shoulders of the giants sees more than the giant sees.' ? So, use OPE (like OPM) - Other People's Experience (like Other People's Money).

Does the sensne of awkwardness follow you when you set out to do something that you have never done before? Well, that's only natural. That is the reaction from your personality to prevent you from getting out of 'comfort zone'. We all have built in safety mechanism which was meant to go off when we faced dangerous circumstances. It is still good. But, it has not relaxed as real dangers are far less as we have evolved from a cave man to modern man. So, we have to consciously loosen it so that we drop our guard and and really do something that we have never done before to get what we never had before.

Cheers to doing something that you have never done before!

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Monday, October 06, 2008

Needs & Wants

"We sometimes get what we want. We most of the times get what we need." - Mick Jagger (?)

I am tempted to say we get more than what is necessary most of the times. Oh yes, you can pat on your own back and say anything you want like - I work so hard. I am so smart. I studied so much more than so many people - anything. But, why should one get more than they need? Ok, not that we want socialism. Where everyone is equal and some are more equal :) But, the point is we do not seem to be happy when our basic needs are met. We always want more. Nothing wrong to aspire more. But, if we do not take a moment to be grateful for the fact that our needs have been met and we have many times gotten more than our needs, we are not going to be able to forgive ourselves and feel good about anything. Gandhi did not say for nothing - There is enough for everyone's need but not enough for anyone's greed. Greed is good. But, only after we are grateful for getting what we need.

You know one of the easiest ways to feel good ? Just start being grateful for one thing every day. May be one day you are grateful for wonderful health you got. Next day, may be for wonderful family you have and next day may be for wonderful job you still have. So on and so forth. Continue to remember everything you can be grateful for. Try this for few days and see for yourself how your outlook changes so much for better. Watch your energy levels. It is sad that we have so many things to be grateful for and we do not seem to care for none of that and brood over few trivial things and make ourselves so much miserable.

Feel grateful and feel good. When you feel good, everyone around you feels good. Feeling good is just so naturally infectious. One hell of a good infection that is.


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One smart financial guy

Shaym Pattabhi who writes at - - really impressed me. His blog is fairly new and has only few entries. But, the depth and analysis are really good. Read the post on when buying real estate makes sense. It really opened my eyes to  what really matters in investing - returns. Shyam seems got it all as far finance goes. He writes well, backs everything with data and explains his ideas clearly. One of the best financial columnist I have read in a long time. He writes for Indian news paper 'The Hindu'. I hope he comes up with many more such useful columns.


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Quiet reads for the stormy times

So, has the ride been rough in stock markets over last few weeks? No doubt. Time to take the money out? At the risk of repeating myself, answer is No. If you take money out now, you will probably incur great amount of irreversible losses. Stay put if you are already in the market. If you have money and believe that over the long term, market is going to comeback, it is time to buy. Do we know if the market has bottomed? No good answer here. Best strategy is to stick to investing basics.

There are some books which have impressed me quite a bit and made me a believer in investing in broad based well diversified stock holdings. I want to give their names here and also want to remind myself to read them or skim them over. I think they are really good books  to read especially during these difficult times so that we do not take some foolish decision in the moment of panic.

First book is 'Stocks for the long run' by Prof. Jeremy Seigel. Wharton biz school professor. Prof. Seigel has compiled tonnes of data over last century to write a compelling book which has been a best seller for last many years. This is the book to read and be convinced that historical figures are in favor of astute investors who buy diversified portfolios and hold them for a long period. The book analyzes stock returns and compares them to returns on other asset classes such as  precious metal, real estate etc. and shows how stocks beat all other asset classes over a long period of time.

Second book is 'A random walk down wall street' by Prof. Burton Malkiel. A highly respected Princeton professor. In this book Prof. Malkiel makes a strong case for sticking with index funds and shows that nobody can consistently beat market returns. If  well-paid and full time professionals can not do that, why waste time? Better it is to buy a whole bunch of low cost index funds in all sorts of areas and forget the ups and downs.

Both these books are written by academicians with tonnes of research and data for common man. Both books are fast reads and should be available in your library or for purchase for a few dollars. They have been best sellers for so long that you can find used copies for a couple of dollars or even free if you are willing to pay nominal postage. If your believe in the premise of books, then buy new copies. You are not going to regret. You may become a better investor too.

If you are disciplined investor, you are probably familiar with the concept of 'dollar cost averaging.' DCA is a method by which you put in fixed amount of money to buy stocks or mutual funds at a regular intervals of time. It has been found to provide nice returns because by putting in fixed amount of money at regular intervals, you automaticall buy low and sell high. When market is rising, you will buy fewer shares and when market is down, you buy more shares. What if this method can be further improved? That's where Value cost averaging comes in. VCA requires little more work on your part but studies show that VCA has potential return better returns than DCA. VCA requires little more work because you have to adjust how much you want to buy based on market performance. Also, if your expectation is not right, you may end up holding too much cash especially while markets are rising and waiting for markets to come down. One way to ensure that you always buy stocks, but still use VCA, is buy expecting more returns than market can possibly return. Expecting a return of 15% annually is a good expectation. So, if you are buying on monthly basis, it works out approximately 1.25% return month to month. For most accurate results, reverse the compound interest formula for 15% with period set to 12. But, 1.25% is good enough. To start off with VCA, buy some mutual fund the first month for $1000. If the share price is at $100, you will buy 10 shares. When you are ready to buy shares next month, remember that you expect 1.25% return. So, share price should be 101.25. So, by chance, if the share price is 101.25, you do nothing and hold on to your cash. When market has given you the required rate of return, you stay put. But, if stock has dropped to say $95 a share. So, your portfolio value is $950. Ideally it should have been 1000*1.0125 = 1012.5. So, you will buy shares worth 12.5 dollars to bring your portfolio to where it should have been. You will also adjust your reference to $95 a share and expect it to become 95*1.0125 = 96. 1875. Next month you expect your portfolio to be at 1012.5*1.0125 = 1037. 8125. If the value is less than this, you will buy to bring the value to this number or if the value is equal or greater, you will stick with cash or find other opportunities to invest. If you can not find better opportunities to invest, you go ahead and buy as much as you can. By following VCA, you are becoming disciplined at keeping an eye on the returns you expect. Holding cash for sometime is not a bad thing in VCA because next month stocks may fall quite a bit and you may need extra cash to make up for bigger difference between what your portfolio is worth and where it should have been. There are some variations how people do VCA. Some people do not adjust the reference price month to month at all. They make up a model, say with monthly returns of 1.25% on the starting price, and stick with it hell or high water. It is a good approach if stocks prices are stable but when they are quite volatile, what you can spare at the end of the month may not be adequate at all. By adjusting reference price month to month you are making it easier for yourself to buy decent number of shares. If you have a lot of extra cash and your model has aggressive expectations, you can leave the reference point fixed and just keep buying. Just bear in mind that during prolonged bear markets,you may need a lot of money to keep up if your expectations are quite high.

VCA is not very difficult although it may seem so. You can create simple Excel worksheet in no time. There are a lot of web site which describe VCA in better terms than I have done here.

VCA or DCA, disciplined investing must pay back. So, keep investing. Once you have set aside enough cash reserve to last you comfortably for 6-9 months, there is not much you can do about problems which may go longer than those many months. If it makes you feel better and if you can afford, feel free to hold up to 1 year worth of living expenses in liquid cash. But, do not get worried by temporary market swings and pull back all your money and hide it in your mattress.

Cheers to successful investing!

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