Thursday, January 29, 2009

Money

"Money can't buy happiness, but neither can poverty." - Leo Rosten


Money, money, money- is there any better subject to talk about? Pick up any magazine. They are full of money related articles and news. Recent economic downturn has put the media in full swing and media is churning out tonnes of pulp full of articles related to money.


If you cut to the heart of the matter, it is all very simple. Money - has there phases in your life. Learn to earn money. Earn money to enjoy life. Return money back to society to have a better life next time around. Churchill said - 'We make a living by what we earn. We make a life by what we give.'


Money is neither good or bad. It is its use that determines goodness or badness. Like many other things. Guns are neither good nor bad. Fire is neither good nor bad. They are energy. How we put it to use is what matters. Got the point?


'Money is not the key to happiness. If you have the money, you can buy the key.'


'Money saved is money made.'


Earn as much as you can. Do not lose money beyond your comfort level. It takes money to make money. Know when to cut losses and move on. Do not always dwell on money. It is better if money, like many other good things in life, comes in trickles than as floods. Chances are you will be swept away if it comes as flood. So, be patient. With patience and time, everything works out. So will be your money situation.


When you have more money than you can spend, do not hold back or spend indiscriminately. Invest in profit producing enterprises. Holding back your savings does no good to anyone. Saved money  which is not invested loses value due to inflation. On the other hand, money invested creates good economy which helps everyone. Just remember to understand what is your risk tolerance. If you can sleep well only when you have stuffed your money in your mattress, then that's what you should do. Never take more risk than you are comfortable with. This applies regardless of how attractive a money-making opportunity may be. It is your sanity. So, do whatever you need to do to preserve it.


Final thing is to return it back to society. It is the society that gave you the money. You may say you earned it. Absolutely. But, bear in mind it is the society that created value for whatever you have to offer and paid for it. You just made use of the opportunity given to you to make money. So, be grateful to the society or humanity at large which has allowed you to earn your living. If the humanity at large has been generous to you, it is only fair that you be generous to humanity as well. If you give more, you will be given more. If you hold back, even whatever little you have will be taken away from you. It is perfectly fine to leave behind your fortune to family. But, remember to give something back to society. Returning the money back to the pool is probably one of the most satisfying experiences of all times. When you spend money on worthwhile causes, you feel good. If money can buy happiness, that is one way.


Cheers!


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Big problem

"One of the biggest problems of the world is that the stupid ones are damn sure and the intelligent ones are full of doubts!"


Stupid, intelligent - these are all relative. By using these words a lot, we may become prejudiced. Or we are already prejudiced. That's why we use such words. 'Adjectives'.


Adjectives are good when used in moderation. It is better to limit their use. It's better to write in plain language than use a lot of adjectives in our jargon. Look at court documents or other official documents. They are good examples of controlled use of adjectives. They use very few, if any at all. It makes sense. Those documents are meant to be read and understood without generating more ambiguity. People complain about 'small print'. I think that is also a preconceived notion that all 'small print' is hard to read. I agree that it could be much better if they were to put that in 'large print' instead of small print. But, with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) population, I have not much confidence that people would read that either.


If you try to read such legalese documents, you find that they are not that complicated as they are made out to be. If anything, they are way too dry. Once again, they do not use adjective indiscriminately. Hence, they come across as bland.


There is an effective way to read such legalese documents. First step is to copy and paste the legal document, if you have access to soft copy, into a word processor of your choice. Say, Microsoft word. Once you have copied the content of that legal document into your own document, you can format it as you wish. Next thing to do is to format the content with liberal white spacing. Format such that there are at least 2 line spacing between each line. Increase the font size. Once you are happy with the format, print a nice copy. Do not forget to leave little more margin than normal.


Now you are ready to read the legal document which has been formatted for your reading pleasure. Get yourself a highligher and a pencil. Read one paragraph at a time. Get a quick overview of the paragraph and then read each line, one at a time. As you read, highlight important points. I said important points and not entire lines. That defeats the purpose of highlighting. After you have read one paragraph, make a note in one or two sentences which summarizes the paragraph. Continue to follow this process for rest of the document. After you have finished reading the document, you come back and start collecting notes against each paragraph. By this time you have a good picture of what you read. If not, repeat the process.


If you do not have access to soft copy, you may follow the same process with the hardcopy given to you. If you want additional space, make a photocopy in such a way that you photocopy half a page at a time. This give enough white space on each copy page for your notes.


This method does not apply only to legal documents or fine print. Sometimes scientific articles and text books are also as bland and dry as legal stuff. You can use the same method to read and comprehend them as well.


It is a shame that 'fine print' has gotten such a bad rap. Once you learn the art of reading fine print, you will surely appreciate how much good stuff is hidden in there. Reading fine print is good for your health  (sometimes  literally).


Cheers!


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Emperor's clothes..skills

'Emperor has no clothes.' - is a old saying. New joke heard is - 'emperor has no skills.' This is a joke doing rounds against incompetent CEOs in these days of economic downturn. As such those poor CEOs are reeling under the pressure to produce results. On top of that, cynics go around making such jokes. 'Emperor has no skills' - everyone knows that their leader is incompetent. But, they are unable to tell it as such just as those poor people could not say that their emperor had no clothes. It took a small boy to call out. He called out because he did not know any such false niceties. He was someone who could call a spade a spade.


Cheers!


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Friday, January 16, 2009

Virtues & Vices

"Search others for their virtues, thyself for thy vices." - Ben Franklin


It is said we find in others what we fail to find in ourselves. Unfortunately, most of the time, we find only bad things. It is because what we fail to find in ourselves or more correctly what we do not want to find in ourselves we find in others.


Best way to develop relations and rapport with others is to always look for something good in everyone. If we try hard enough, we will surely find some things that we like to find. Everybody has some good qualities. It is just that we are always looking for something we already do not like and we very quickly find that in everyone and start disliking them. Place to find such bad qualities is within ourselves. It is just that since it is easy to find bad qualities in others, we very quickly latch on to them. It hurts to find such qualities in ourselves even when they are present in abundance. So, we avoid it. We avoid pain at all costs. So, this is no different.


Cheers!


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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Brushed & Shaved

"Well brushed is half shaved."


"Problem well stated is problem half solved."


"Good barber always lathers before he shaves."


"Good luck is the point where preparation meets opportunity"


"Opportunity comes dressed in 'work' clothes."



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Saturday, January 03, 2009

LRM - Last Responsible Moment

"Never do today what you can put off till tomorrow. Delay may give clearer light as to what is best to be done." - Aaron Burr


"Decisions should be made at the very last responsible moment possible." This is not procrastination but can be viewed as 'inspired laziness.'


This a very hard concept to grasp. Most of are schooled to think 'Do  today what you need to do tomorrow. Do now what you need to do today.'


Last Responsible Moment(LRM) applies only to the actual decision making. LRM is for pulling the trigger. LRM is not the time to start cleaning your rifle. What this means is that you have procured a gun, cleaned it thoroughly, you have filled it with bullets, you have practiced enough, you have taken approximate aim many times. You have been diligently doing everything you need to do to make a successful shot. But, even after doing all this, if you want to make a successful kill, you need to wait till the last moment possible. If you see a herd of deer, it does not make sense to shoot some hapless deer and waste your bullets. You want to spot a big buck which can give a you a great trophy. So, you watch the herd carefully, wait for that big buck to appear in your gun's sight and when you are absolutely sure that if you do not shoot now the buck will disappear, you pull the trigger and take down the buck.


Sorry to use hunting analogy here. It is not something I enjoy or endorse. All form of hunting should be avoided. But, this example came to mind.


Bullets (resources) are limited. By shooting the very first deer you see, you are wasting valuable resources which are need to make the best return on investment.


LRM comes from lean thinking. Lean thinking a generic term applied to agile manufacturing process pioneered by Toyota. Toyota does not build cars in too much advance of customer orders. This is because cars built on anticipated orders result in inventory - dead cash. So, they put off actual manufacturing to closely match the flow of orders.


LRM does not mean procrastination. The point is to use all the available time to do as much research as required, do everything else to ensure that our decision when made at LRM is as successful as it can be. And then when the moment comes, make the decision and move on.


On the other hand, we tend to make decisions too early even when we know that the actual decision is not due now. Naturally we make bad decisions because we have not taken time to analyze and consider all possibilities. So we make a critical decision too early and spend all the available time regretting that decision or reworking the decision. Both are not useful at all.


Cheers!


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Middle Age

"Middle age is when your broad mind and narrow waist begin to change places." - E. Joseph Cossman


What a great quotation? Nothing describes middle age better than this quote. I have a theory why this happens. By middle age, we have probably accumulated so much prejudices against everything and anything that prejudices overflow from brain and flow towards lower elevation and come down from brain to settle down under our waist. Waistline increases and brain tank decreases. This provides more prejudices to accumulate in our brains and the process repeats all over. Let's stop here and not push this too far. Regardless prejudices, it is only natural for waist to expand as we age. Some people may exercise regularly and keep fit but still nobody can say they are just like that as they were when they were teenagers.


"Middle age is when you realize you are the top of the ladder but the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.' Some people when they are middle aged suddenly realize that they have been pursuing a wrong life in all aspects. These are the people who suddenly give up their careers and start a new life all together. Starting from the scratch.


What is a middle age? I can not think of any speicfic number. Probably something after 35 assuming average life span is 70.


Cheers!



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Use it or lose it...

"Go often to the house of thy friend; for weeds soon choke up the unused path." - Scandinavian Proverb


Use it or lose it - applies to many things. Memory, intelligence, brilliance, relationships - all these thrive only when developed and nurtured with constant care and practice.


It's amazing that when we are born we are born with so many abilities. Later in life when look back, we have probably made best use of a fraction of what we have had all along. But, there is one good news. No innate ability is gone for good. It may have several layers of dust and crud all over it which may require a lot of scrubbing and cleaning to shine once again. But, there is still hope.


Ask any successful writer when they write. If they have been successful as writers, they say they write regularly. Like amateur writers they do not say, they have to be in a  proper creative mood to write. It is like a professional tennis player saying he would practice only if he felt like it. Professional writers etc. follow a strict regimen of writing hours every day for years. They write and write and then go back and see what they need to re-write and do it all over again.


Stephen Covey said 'if we want to be successful at cutting, we need to sharpen the blade sometimes.' If we only cut all the time, blade will be worn out soon and our ability to cut also goes down. So, every 1 hour you cut with a blade, you probably need to spend 10 minutes to sharpen the blade.


Relationships are classic example how things just vanish into thin air if not maintained. Most of us are into 'out of sight, out of mind'. When a friend or relative is out of sight, he or she is out of mind also and we forget to regularly keep in touch. We only grow more and more distant as years pass by. Then one fine day we find a need to renew the friendship and it feels extremely awkward. Why get into that in the first place? Why not just keep in touch from time to time? Even a one liner e-mail once in a few months is a big step towards keeping relationships alive. Easier said than done.


Least we can do is to welcome someone when they try to renew an old relationship. If we are at least that much gracious, it goes a long way. Think it this way. Both of you have made a mistake of not keeping in touch and now one of you have taken the first step. If you are smart, you take a few positive steps for every step the other person takes. Relationship will bloom again. It is said 'for every step we take towards God. God takes seven steps towards us.' Isn't there something for us to learn?


On a very different note, something else comes to mind. There was a Kannada movie called 'Indina Ramayana' (Today's Ramayana). I think it was released in 1984. Vishnuvardhan was the hero in that movie. He says in the movie 'no grass grows on the path treaded by many people.' It was said in some particular context in that movie. Watch that movie and see the context in which he says that dialog. That's a totally different perspective.


Cheers!



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Friday, January 02, 2009

Head, heart and hour-glass

"When the head empties, heart fills up. Like a hour-glass."


Empty head and a full heart - any good? Not sure. Head empty of what and heart full of what? Head empty of rationale and heart full of emotions? Is that any good? No idea.


No personal attestation to this quotation. Closest I can say is 'when stomach fill up, brain slows down.' I think this is universally verified. After a heavy meal, most of the blood gets busy digesting the food and you can not do any serious mental work. There are exceptional people, who after partying hard till 12 in the night, come back to work on a very important corporate presentation due next morning at 8 AM. I have only been able to admire them. That's it. Anything more is enough to give me nightmares with stress. Some people really like to push things right  to the very edge just to that tipping point. Don't they? Is that what they call adrenaline rush?


If nothing, the above quotation is quite beautiful especially its comparison to hour glass. That deserves credit. Few people with full head can come up with such a beautiful metaphor. The person who came up with this quotation probably had his heart full with fine emotions.


Cheers!


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Shortest Pencil....Longest Memory

"Shortest pencil is longer than the longest memory."


"When you start inking, you start thinking."


One thing that I have no doubts at all is the power of writing things down. It's one of the most effective tools. Writing things down is so helpful that I have come to view it as universal productivity improvement tool. It does not matter how you capture your thoughts and ideas. You can do it on your tablet-PC or a simple piece of scrap paper. It is not on what you write but the very act of writing it is beneficial because it commits the things that you want to remember to memory for good. Many times after writing it down, you will remember it just when needed.


Some people are blessed with prodigious amount of memory and they can hold a lot of information in their heads without writing anything down. Even they can improve their already super memory by writing simple things down because their precious memory can be used for some really important things than holding less useful to-do list.


David Allen's best seller "Getting Things Done" system is entirely built around this model. If there are too many things in your head, they cause confusion, stress and decrease in productivity. Why not take time once in a while to go over everything and make a list and keep updating them every once in a while? Best daily updates. You update your list at the end of the day, prioritize a few things for next day and next day you just focus on those.


"An idea not written down is not worth the paper it is not written on." So, if you want to get any value for your idea, at least the value of a piece of paper, you need to write it down. As you start writing down, it is really gratifying to see how your idea neatly evolves and expands. Expanding an idea is an art. It is sad that not many formal education systems teach that art. Normally we are left to pick it up way later in our lives. It is fairly simple. First develop a straw-man and then add meat to the straw-man. In no time, your idea expands so much so that you wonder if it was you who developed that tiny seed into such an outstanding piece of art - to say the least.


Harnessing the power of writing down is simple. Go and buy a dozen of small note pads and pencils and leave them everywhere. A few places in your house, car, desk, table and most importantly your valet. As soon as something worth remembering comes to mind, just jot down and leave it. At some point, as frequently as possible, collect all notebooks and organize all the stuff into a master list. Master list is best maintained as a nice spreadsheet. This is because spreadsheet allows you to slice and dice the data as you need it.


Also read David Allen and Brain Tracy's books on personal productivity. These are two authors who have really made a difference in the lives of many professionals.


Also, master the fine art of note taking. Note taking is a very important skill. One simple way of note taking in meetings, lectures is to divide a page into two columns. On the left hand side, capture important points as you hear them. On the write hand column, expand each point as needed while you are in the meeting or later. Key is to make the left hand column as complete as possible. If key points are captured correctly, the details follow or if anything is missing you can always reach out and get the missing information around a key point.


Cheers to your ever improving personal productivity and gratification that comes from it!


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Thursday, January 01, 2009

Acceptance

"Acceptance is such an important commodity, some have called it 'the first law of personal growth'." - Peter McWilliams


Lack of accepting the reality saps too much of energy. Why? If we fail to accept the reality, we pour all valuable energy to support denial. Being in denial does not help at all. If we are able to accept, then we can take a stock of the situation and see what can be done to improve. If we are in denial, we will close the door on all possibilities to change the very things about which we are in denial.


People either fail to accept or more commonly, they blame it on everyone else for their misfortunes (real or perceived).


Pessimist - complains about the wind speed and direction


Optimist - hopes that winds will change for better


Realist - sees wind for what it is - just  wind


Pragmatist - adjusts the sails to suit the winds to make progress.


It is easy to see the level of maturity from pessimist to optimist to realist to pragmatist.


Realism and pragmatism are rooted firmly in acceptance. If we do not accept first, we can not take necessary counter action.


Business world has an important term called 'sunk cost'. Sunk cost, as name implies, is sunk. It's a goner. Nothing much can be done about it. For example, if you have invested 1000 dollars in some project. There is a potential to make 200 dollar business only if you invest 500 dollars more. Will you invest? Smart answer is no. Anything less than 501 dollars worth of business makes no sense at all regardless of your initial investment. Very fact that you need to invest new money writes off all previous investments as sunk cost. You should consider any new investment as such - new. Here it is 500 dollars. Why invest 500 dollars more to do a business of only 200 dollars? It is like losing 300 dollars. But, people tend to look at all the previous investments and feel bad about not investing little more to make up and they never do. This kind of decision process gets even more clouded when initial investments are in millions of dollars. It does not matter. Actual business scenarios may not be as simple. For example, things can be complicated by additional business over next few years etc. Even then you can do complex business analysis of discounting the cash flow to determine present value of all the future business as compared to your additional investment and then decide if you want to invest more or cut your losses and move on.


Acceptance is like cutting your losses. If you do not accept reality soon enough, you are not cutting your losses and not cutting losses is a sure recipe to bleed to death in stock markets as well as in life.


It is funny that we read in scriptures that God accepts as we are. If God can be so gracious to accept us with all our flaws, why can't we? Accept first and improve later. It is like first we need to survive before we can thrive.


Cheers!


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Confidence

"The man who has confidence in himself gains the confidence of others." - Hasidic Saying


How can one become more confident? Confidence comes from skills (being able to do) and knowledge (being able to know). Knowledge is not power. Knowledge applied is power. Confidence also comes from experience. "Been there. Done that." Nothing succeeds like success. Success (or failure) comes only from doing. So, if you want to feel confident you have to expose yourself to variety of experiences. "Nothing that kills you only makes you stronger" - this is something we should remember when we feel anxiety about trying something new. There are only few foolhardy things, if and when tried ,can be fatal. All other experiences are fine to go after. Moreover, every experience is an experiment. Experiments do not have failures or successes. They only have outcomes. It is our reaction to outcomes makes us term an experience as success and other as failure.


It is one thing to have confidence and a totally different thing to portray confidence. Confident people are not very defensive. They are not shaken when you dispute what they say. If someone goes on defensive as soon as you show even mild disagreement, you can safely question his confidence. If you are confident about yourself and your ideas, why do you ever want to get defensive? You and your personality is not something which need to be defended from every minor attack.


If someone is not very good at displaying their confidence even when they are confident, how can we determine their level of confidence? You see, we sometimes need to do more than merely scratching the surface of someone's personality if we want to benefit from their vast experience and expertise. If we  write them off just because they are not very good at portraying their confidence, it is us who is going to lose out.Try to learn as much about the other person as you can. If you find the person has had a lot of experience, you can benefit from his experience even if he does not know how to portray that into an external confidence. You may also be able to make him understand how valuable his experience and skills are and help him become more confident. Many times we bump into such raw diamonds. All they need is just some polishing to shine. What can be more fulfilling  if you can help someone feel more confident about himself?


Always sharpen your intellect so that you can differentiate genuine confidence from mere hot air. These days everyone knows that one has to come across as extremely confident to succeed. Nothing wrong with that. But, a lot of people do not have what it takes to feel the level of confidence they want others to see in them. It's all pomp and show. Help such people too. Make them understand it is okay to feel less confident at times. Everyone feels confident in some areas and if you want to succeed you should know your strengths as well as weaknesses.


Cheers!


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On Bad Apple

"One bad apple spoils the entire basket."


We have heard similar quotes. This is normally used to show how one person can screw up an entire group or a project or team.


It seems true empirically. How about some real data? Exactly. Recently a professor at University of Rotterdam in Netherlands conducted some research to investigate what kind of bad apples affect team performance and how.


Based on his performance, he identified 3 kinds of bad apples for a team - the jerk, the slacker and the depressed pessimist.


"This Amercian Life" - one of the best radio programs recently did an episode on this research. Excellent program. If you are interested to learn more, you can listen to the episode at - http://www.thisamericanlife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?sched=1275


Cheers!


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Financial Shock by Mark Zandi


Financial Shock: A 360ยบ Look at the Subprime Mortgage Implosion, and How to Avoid the Next Financial Crisis (Hardcover)


by Mark Zandi (Author)


If you are looking for a book that explains what happened in 2008 related to mortgage mess, this is the book to read.


Mark Zandi is someone you have probably listened on radio. His commentaries are heard on NPR financial programs. So, when I chanced upon a book written by him, I went ahead and read it. I was not disappointed.


Over last few months, we all have read different pieces about recent financial crisis in all sorts of news papers, magazines etc. Wouldn't it be nice if someone could piece all that information together and present a coherent view so that we can follow it more easily? That's exactly what this book does.


After reading this book, you may say 'oh, this was all that was there to this mess.'  Yes, that won't be a surprise at all. That's where the author really shines out. He makes things so simple that you will understand how this whole mess evolved. Simple story is this - there was a lot of free money (due to low interest rates). So, people had to put money somewhere. Tech bubble had just burst in year 2000. So, people were looking for some other place to park their money. Real estate is where they decided to gamble this time. So, money was lent to all those who everyone knew were not in a position to pay back. So, lenders devised interesting schemes. People who created the bubble, in my opinion, knew about the risks of defaults from many people very well. So, they did not want to hold those loans. So, they packaged those loans into pools which contained some good loans and some bad loans. They sold these packaged loans to others. They created packages of packages and sold to others and so on. So, it was like a hot potato that nobody wanted to hold for too long. It was fun as long as there were people who were willing to catch the hot potato. When the borrowers started to actually default on their loans, there were nobody to pass on the hot potato to. So, markets started declining.


Warren Buffet said it best -"it is only when the tide recedes, we will know who had no bathing suits." Borrowers starting to default was that moment and we caught several people with no bathing suits at all. These were the banks which we have had to bail out.


Great book.


Cheers!




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Fault

"Always acknowledge a fault. This will throw those in authority off their guard and give you an opportunity to commit more." - Mark Twain


Another similar quote - "It is easier to seek forgiveness later than permission now."


When we want to do something, many times the number of permissions we need to get can be very frustrating. Sometimes, after we analyze the situation, it may seem appropriate to go ahead and do what we want to do and address the consequences, if any, later. There are very few things which can be catastrophic if they turn out to be something other than we wanted. In such cases, forgiveness can be asked and will be normally granted. As they say - 'nothing that kills you makes you only stronger.'


'Just do it.'


Cheers!


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Happy New Year

Wish you a very happy new year 2009.


Some people say 'I do not believe in saying - have a good day. I would say - make it a good day.' Similarly, 'make it a great year' for yourself.


Please continue to send your comments. I have been fortunate to receive e-mails from some of you from time to time. We have had some intelligent discussions from which at least I have learnt a great deal. Thanks for all such opportunities.


Once again, happy new year and best wishes.


Cheers!


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