Can we stop the wars from happening?

Wars seem to be an integral part of life. Wars are happening on the earth for ages; between castes, societies, countries, animals and individuals. With the recent happenings (India and Pakistan), we are again on the brink of war. Over the period, the way we fight wars has evolved; it has become more sophisticated and subtler and even more cruel and gross at some places; but wars do happen.

Should we think about stopping wars or should we embrace them as an inevitable reality in our lives? More importantly, if we think we should stop wars, what’s the way to achieve that?

To begin with, I remember a beautiful sentence by Osho, where he says, ‘when the peace inside is disturbed, the wars happen outside’.

screen-shot-2016-10-03-at-4-34-53-pmWars are the manifestation of the turbulence inside. All possibilities of war are eliminated if minds are peaceful. When we typically talk about stopping war, we are essentially talking about stronger armies, powerful ammo and warfare technology. As one can see, when we hear the word ‘war’, our first reaction is protecting ourselves and defeating our enemy and never about preventing it from happening. The only way to stop wars from happening is creating peace within oneself. A person full of anger, frustration, hopes and passion is not at peace and unless he is not at peace, war is inevitable.

Everyday conflicts are also sort of wars. small frustrations and small conflicts add up and evolve into big wars. The first step to stop big wars is living life in such a way that it prevents the accumulation of frustration, anger inside oneself. Drops of violence come together to form the ocean. Meditation is the way to stop the formation of the drops of violence within oneself!

What Do We Need? ‘Startups’ or ‘Smartups’?

light-bulb-1681801_1280Last weekend, I was invited to conduct a full day session for co-founders of 22 startups, coming from the different parts of the country. The purpose of the session was enabling them to fine-tune their business plans which they would be presenting to potential investors after three days of intensive training.

All the co-founders had already shortlisted their ideas and some of them had a demo product and a few of them already had dozens of reference sites where their products were already being used. After interacting with these co-founders, I felt a bit sad. They had not bothered about or rather were ignoring many crucial questions. Here are some of the observations:

  1. Only one or two teams could define the problem that they were solving, at a generic level. Not a single team had done a good job of defining the problem that they are solving in black and white.
  2. Almost no one knew the market, the point of market entry, the size of market that could be captured and key financials such as ROI for the customer, cost of customer acquisition and life time revenues from one customer.
  3. Poor info about the competitors, their offering, opportunities and threats and key advantages offered by the products.
  4. No awareness about the industry – whether it is growing, shrinking, what are the specific challenges, collaborative efforts involved etc.

The list is quite long but I thought of listing the points I thought were most important. The purpose of sharing this is not criticizing anyone but highlight my point- Having your own startup is quite easy. Moving from startup to a ‘smartup’, where each of your actions is smart- based on data and adds value is very difficult.

In long term, startups who are also ‘smartups’ manage to succeed. Startups who cannot mature into ‘smartups’ fail miserably.

You still want to start just a startup?

The Future of RIckshawallas in the Age of Ola and Uber

Taxi and Auto drivers in Mumbai planned a strike starting from 29th August to protest against on-demand hailing services like Uber and Ola. Through my occasional discussions with cab drivers and very rarely with Rickshaw drivers, I always feel the hostility they keep in their minds against the drivers who joined with these Apps. To begin with, I do not personally support either App based services or individual cab or Rickshaw drivers. As an individual, I use what is convenient and cheap.

olaI would like to share an incident that took place a few days ago. Our flight landed at Pune airport around six in the evening. I had parked my car in the office just a mile away from the airport. We had to rush to the office to pick my car and then rush to the crematorium to get the last glimpse of an old, loving lady who had passed away while we were on flight.

Since the distance is short, instead of a cab, we plan to take a Rickshaw. All the rickshaw drivers demand a sum above 100 whereas reasonable fare would have been Rs. 30. An Ola couldn’t have costed more than 80 rupees. We prepare our mind to pay 60, double of the fair fare to any Rickshaw driver. Unfortunately, none of them is willing to come below 80. We simply start walking; not because the additional bucks are a burden on our pocket but simply because we dislike this attitude. After we walk further, we finally get a rickshaw driver who is willing to charge us as per the meter.

It is again and again proven that products or services fail due to the attitude of people who run them. On one side, we have Rickshaw drivers who deny to accept passengers even if they are willing to pay twice the fare. On the other hand, there are rickshaw and cab drivers who feel as if they will starve to death due to lack of business as more and more people are opting for App based rides.

uberDisruption is easiest in the fragmented marketplaces. In monopolies, disruption rarely happens. Uber, Ola and other ride hailing Apps targeted a right sector- which is highly fragmented and offers a pathetic user experience. What should wise rickshaw or cab drivers do to safeguard their future?

There is only one thing which can save the future of Rickshawallas – offering more value than the competitors. A rickshaw has numerous advantages over a cab- it is inherently cheap and hence, can promise lower fares if a minimum engagement rate is attained. It is compact and hence, can offer a speedy commute and is much easier to park. Integration with solar energy is far more feasible for a rickshaw than a cab. Using technology, a rickshaw can be made as safe and convenient as a cab. It is a choice; whether they want to unite to protest against competitors or they want to unite to offer a better service.

Among many other sectors, transport is the one which needs reforms badly. Over next 10-15 years, the changes in this sector would be beyond our imagination. Considering the automation and advances in the self-driving technology, the number of people depending on driving as a profession is bound to come down sharply. Ola, Uber and other App based services is just a mild shock; the major one will come when the entire transport sector is reformed and self-driving cars are running on streets.

If I were a rickshaw driver, I would leave aside all the unions and other things that prevent me from upgrading with the technical advances and offering the best service.

Can’t you see? Over the period, technology has systematically freed us from some of the biggest influences on our hearts and heads- from religious orthodoxies to nationalism.

Can you share the sensitivity?

We read so many scriptures and listen to so many wise people around us. Still, we do not change. So many peace rallies and silent marches are conducted but they do nothing to stop the crimes. On the social level, we all want to stop corruption but still, we are far from controlling it. Hatred is always rising in spite of many efforts by many great philosophers, saints and activists.

What is the problem? It simply means all these things are least effective if at all. The problem is, in spite of so many initiatives, we are not able to change the minds. The messages are being delivered; but they are not doing the work that they are supposed to do: to touch the heart and make it sensitive.

Any message that you send out, has two parts: one is the content of the message and second one is the sensitivity. If the message fails to create the sensitivity, it is futile. It’s a wasted opportunity. Can we really create communication which makes a person sensitive to its cause? I feel, to some extent, it is possible but we cannot solely rely on the communication to make people sensitive.

sensitivity

Sensitivity cannot be shared; it is born within a person. A mother carries the baby within her womb for nine months and bears the pain. A sensitive person also carries in his womb his sensitivity. The important point to note is, this sensitivity never leads to any pain. Rather, it frees the mind out of its conditioning and sets it into the action. Sensitivity leads to enlightenment.

The ‘Choiceless’ Awareness

Today, terms like awareness, Nirvana, Meditation and Yoga are being used like other casual activities- trekking, mountaineering, cycling etc. Yoga is probably being looked upon as a form of exercise good for both body and mind and meditation as a way to take better decisions in the complex situation without letting your blood pressure go high.

Many are happy to see the popularity gained by Indian practices in western culture or in modern lifestyle. Just a note of caution- we are taking away the true form and the true spirit from these practices.

Meditation done with a purpose is not meditation; it is simply an exercise of concentration. Similarly, Yoga is not a tool to make yourself fit and productive; these are merely the by-products. The beauty of meditation is, you don’t have to do it with a purpose. When all purposes die, meditativeness pops up.

‘Truth is a pathless land’ were the words used by J. Krishnamurti when he delivered a speech and dissolved the Order of Stars. If we meditate with a path in our head- path to better mental health, mindfulness, calmness etc. we have reduced it to a utility. It might take you to the end goal that you have imagined but not to the ultimate realization…

Awareness is choice-less, a grace on a pathless land, while wandering without any purpose.

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Joy, Satisfaction and Frustration: Balancing Life On The Three Pillars

Through out the day, we are doing something or the other. The other day, while observing how we spend our time, I realized that the most of the time that we spend, can be divided into two gross buckets. First bucket is the time that we spend doing things that give us direct joy or the things that we enjoy doing. The second bucket is the time that we spend doing things that give us something in return.

For instance, someone loves to paint and he enjoys the very act of painting. Or someone loves to teach. In this case, the sheer joy which comes out of doing the activity surpasses other benefits that one gets out of doing it. In case of such activity, we do it not out of thought, but we do it out of joy. On the other hand, the second type of activities is the typical ‘work’ that we do. We do it because we get paid for doing it or because it will help us achieve something in future or it is good for our reputation.

What should our typical day be composed of? How much time should we spend doing activities under both of these buckets? I will be honest at the beginning- very very few people are so passionate about something that they will leave aside all other things in the pursuit. I assume you are the one who wants to lead a balanced life in a satisfactory way, balancing all the fronts (joy, money, satisfaction etc.)

It will be ridiculous to say one should full time do what he loves; unless you are very passionate about what you love and not at all bothered about money, other needs and other requirements.

It will be even more ridiculous if you spend all of your time doing things that fall in the second bucket- you do not enjoy (or might even hate!) doing them but still do them for one or the other reason.

To find out the answer to this question, one has to closely analyze these two types of activities and the drawing below might help:

joy of actionAs it can be seen, when we do an activity simply because we love it, the outcome is pure joy. On the other hand, when we do something to get something, the output depends on majorly two things- what is the level of satisfaction that we get out of doing it and what is frustration that we get out of doing it.

For instance, let us assume that A gets paid 80,000 rupees every month for working as a marketing manager. These 80,000 rupees help him in several ways- paying for the loan, monthly expenses, the school fees, buying new gadgets, travelling, medical care etc. Hence, this amount brings some amount of satisfaction. At the same time, his work forces him to travel a lot. He hates most of the part of the work that he does, he is not able to spend his time doing things he loves to do, his boss constantly tortures him etc. All of this builds a frustration in him. So, the net satisfaction will be a sum total of all the frustration and satisfaction. If the satisfaction earned is  higher than the frustration, A will continue. If the frustration is higher than the satisfaction, A might leave or he might still do it, cribbing all the time.

Considering this, one can certainly do this to improve his satisfaction

  1. Spend at least some time doing things that you just enjoy doing. If possible, do not link this activity with your financial status (simply means, if you love painting as a hobby, do it just because you love doing it and do not link it with any financial or other gains. Do not be ambitious – being a famous painter, being a well paid painter etc. do it simply because you love doing it.)
  2. It is almost impossible doing what we love all the day and linking it with money. So whatever work you do, try that the satisfaction that you get out of doing it is at least 2 times more than the frustration that it brings. Choose what kind of frustration you can handle and what type you cant. (someone might be happy dealing with a tough boss but can’t live without more money and perks whereas someone might be happy with little money but needs peaceful work atmosphere.)

 

Wisdom of Kabir: The Art of Sailing without ‘Head’

कहे कबीर, जो बिन सर खेवे, सो यह सुमती बखाने

Sant Kabir says, the one who sails without head, gets the ultimate wisdom.

Why so?

For our entire lives, we have been told that our head is what guides us in this world. We firmly believe that our mind is what helps us to remain and succeed in the world. We are always interested in the minds of people- minds of scientists, minds of artists, minds of entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos these days!

kabir on mind

When we live our lives, the focus is always the mind- how to make it sharper, how to make it more logical, how to increase the memory and retain the information for a longer time etc.

So, our entire life is focused on making the mind stronger. And on the other hand, Kabir says, the one who sails without the head i.e. the one who lives the life without his mind, gets the ultimate wisdom.

Why so?

At this point, one has to understand two things clearly. First – our mind is a utility and certainly helps us with the day-to-day activities of our life. Second –  our mind has no value beyond that; it likes things to remain always good, which is contradictory to the nature.

When Kabir says live the life without your mind, he is not asking us to stop using our mind in our day to day life. He is not asking us to stop thinking or memorizing the important things. On the other hand, he is asking us to be free of the limitations that our mind imposes on us. The true wisdom lies beyond the cage which our mind is. Fear is a byproduct of mind; so is greed, lust, ambition, ego and everything else. Mind itself is changing and distracts the walker from the path. Mind is not subtle to catch the subtle wisdom.

Condemning the mind or criticizing the mind is not the solution; rather one should understand the mind in its totality and simply move beyond it. Using mind and not getting used by it is the key.

 

 

 

What Separates Amazon from Flipkart?

Well, there are two happenings, every tech enthusiast should be aware of. First is the fact that Amazon has reached annual sales of $ 100 billion and it has done so in the minimum amount of time. Which means, no other company could touch the revenue of $ 100 billion in a period as short as Amazon. The other news is not good; especially if you love Indian start-up Flipkart and the two Bansals who run it. Flipkart is down-priced by investors and is struggling to grow at the pace it targeted.

amazon flipkart
Note: Logos are owned by respective organizations and are used here for better understanding of the reader.

If one looks at these two news together, one has to ask the question- What separates Amazon from Flipkart?

Amazon, though it reported profits only recently, is growing for sure. Amazon was not in loss due to lack of business I would say; they were in loss to grow further. It seems, this long term strategy has paid off and Amazon has started reporting profits. Moreover, its AWS business is growing at a pace even faster than Amazon itself; but I will touch on that sometime later.

Flipkart, on the other hand, has a different story to tell. It probably faces a downround, where investors buy a company’s stock at a valuation lower than the previous round.

What  is the reason behind drastically different fate of two companies operating in similar market on similar principles?

Amazon and Flipkart work on an almost same principle. But, if one observes carefully, one realizes that there are many things that separate the two companies. Just having a similar business model is not enough. Personally, I feel, Amazon is doing a much better job in terms of delighting the users.

Take my own example. I earlier used to order from Flipkart without fail. I never thought of buying from Amazon. But sometime, I could not find what I was looking for on the Flipkart website and bought the item (it was most probably a book!) from Amazon. After that point, I found Amazon to be more user friendly, easy to use. Now I hardly buy anything from Flipkart.

Keep aside my story. I suppose this might have happened with many more users. To build on this, I think following are the couple of things that separate Amazon and Flipkart.

  1. Continuous improvement and experimentation: I respect Jeff Bezos for this. Those of you, who do not believe me, please take out ten minutes to read his letter. Jeff has ensured that Amazon nowhere stagnates. Amazon is working on so many fronts; they are taking small steps but are ensuring that the improvement never stops.

What we see as success at Amazon is actually a product of insane experimentation and maybe countless failures. Amazon has managed well to keep its people on their toes, all trying to find out something new, which might or might not work.

For instance, to grow Amazon Marketplace in India, they did this-

India is another example of how we globalize an offering like Marketplace through customer obsession and a passion for invention. Last year we ran a program called Amazon Chai Cart where we deployed three-wheeled mobile carts to navigate in a city’s business districts, serve tea, water and lemon juice to small business owners and teach them about selling online. In a period of four months, the team traveled 15,280 km across 31 cities, served 37,200 cups of tea and engaged with over 10,000 sellers.- Jeff Bezos

This is what I call as taking extra efforts to accomplish something. This is an example of doing something out of pure passion and not just to churn profits.

 

  1. A strong philosophy: Amazon is not just an etailer. They are not just people who made an App and market it. They are working very hard on their packaging, delivery, customer delight, energy conservation, sustainability and hundred more things at a time. The above excerpt from Jeff Bezos’ letter is enough to show the spirit to act as per the philosophy.

Sustainable business has to be a part of philosophy of any enterprise. This is another excerpt from the letter from Jeff. Don’t you think this is really commending work? No one was forcing them to do it; but they realized it and took the responsibility and simply did it. I am not aware of anything of this kind happening at Flipkart; please let me know if you know.

 

We’ll keep expanding our efforts in areas like packaging, where our culture of invention led to a big winner – the Frustration-Free Packaging program. Seven years ago we introduced the initiative with 19 products. Today, there are more than 400,000 globally. In 2015, the program eliminated tens of millions of pounds of excess packaging material. Frustration-Free Packaging is a customer delighter because the packages are easier to open. It’s good for the planet because it creates less waste. And it’s good for shareholders because, with tighter packaging, we ship less “air” and save on transportation costs.

Amazon has found out the converging points of what is good for environment, customers and the company itself and it tries very hard to leverage on those converging points. As mentioned above, packaging helps not only the environment, but also the company itself.

Same day delivery, drones for delivery are good moves and they help the business. Improving packaging too helps business to a certain extent but the major benefits are related to sustainability and not monetary. Amazon targets to be fully dependent on renewable energy and their wind farm is a step in that direction. Very smartly, they have figured out keeping everyone happy- environment, customer and also the share holders.

Another advantage of having and working as per a strong philosophy is, it reduces human resources related issues. Flipkart is troubled by the resignations from its top management. Something like this happens when people join an organization and later realize that they have a very different philosophy or work culture. At Amazon, the culture and the philosophy is very well defined, which results in hiring talent which is well aligned to it.

I am not at all saying that Flipkart is just an ordinary etailer. It takes lots of efforts to build something as big as Flipkart. But, to go beyond that, to break the wall, one has to have

a strong philosophy

A culture of risk, innovation, improvement

Commitment to philosophy and consumer delight.

 

To conclude, a business can never succeed simply by having an App and marketing it. You need something great, really great at the back of it. You need to have a philosophy which determines your further actions and direction of the further improvement. Amazon has found out what that ‘great’ thing is. Has Flipkart found it out?

 

 

The Downside of Apps and On-Demand Economy

I was in Hyderabad last week, sitting in my cab, insulated from the pollution all around me. The cab was air conditioned, had picked me up from a fancy apartment where we were staying and was supposed to drop me at the Salar Jung museum. Everything sounds great, except the fact that the Uber cab driver, who was driving me and my wife, would be spending ten more hours in his cab, driving through the insane traffic. Yet, he was happy, welcoming, and warm. He helped me to keep the luggage, and not to forget, suggested me couple of good places to dine at. I gave him a five star rating, enough to make him delighted. A five star rating ensures that he will get more rides, more money and sadly, more health problems.

As we were cutting through the traffic, ahead of me was a delivery boy, carrying a bag, roughly as big as he himself was. He was an integral (but easily disposable) part of the e-commerce community. I prayed for his back; which I knew will collapse in few more years and whatever money he earned, will probably go into fixing it.

 

The App economy works well; very well if you are the one who is using it and not getting used by it. It’s not only about the Apps, it is about our entire lifestyle. We had actually gone to Hyderabad to attend a friend’s wedding. The venue was grand, and the food spread wider than the imagination. It was a huge convention centre, able to handle a few thousand guests. As the wedding was about to get over, I went to the back side of the convention centre and found dozens of ladies, children and old persons sleeping on the grass; some of them were little kids of the waiters serving delicacies inside, some of them were the people who would be cleaning the venue when we all were done littering it.

I am wondering about the balance of opportunities generated versus the problems created by this kind of lifestyle of ours.

greybox

I am sure, there is a lot of employment generated because of the way we live and because of the Apps economy. But, I think it does more harm than the help. The people who we think are getting benefitted, i.e. the cab drivers, delivery boys, cleaners etc., sure, they are getting more income than what they otherwise would get. But, the cost which they will be paying back, looks much higher than what they are earning.

I happened to read a few detailed articles on internet about the consequences of this kind of work one the health of people who do it. For instance, delivery boys will find their backs dismantled (!) within a few years, the cab drivers will suffer from joints and nerves problems; just to mention a few.

Every time I go to the gate of my company to receive my Amazon or Flipkart shipment, the size of the bag makes me feel guilty. Whenever I sit in an Uber or Ola cab, I can make out that the driver will be in this box for the entire day and even till late night.

You can always make the argument- who is forcing them to join the work? They can stop being drivers, delivery boys or what so ever. Sadly, no one can afford to worry about the pain and suffering of the future at the cost of dying hungry today. It’s quite human to compromise on one’s health for more money.

The purpose of writing this article is not criticizing the companies that are being mentioned above or those which operate on a similar model and philosophy. The purpose is to remind ourselves that we are humans.

As human beings, we can live happily only if we care for other human beings. If consumers demand that proper care should be taken of the people working at the bottom of the system, it will be taken. If the consumers insist that they will make use of /buy from copmanies which take sufficient care of the people working for them, VCs will spend few million more dollars to ensure that it happens. As consumers, the onus is on us, to demand. Sadly, we are too busy calling cabs and ordering rolls on the go and do not pay a dime to other human beings and their basic welfare.

 

 

How Can Indians Become Tolerant? By Understanding Kabir!

हिन्दू कहें मोहि राम पियारा, तुर्क कहें रहमाना,
आपस में दोउ लड़ी-लड़ी  मुए, मरम न कोउ जाना।

(Hindus say we worship Rama and Muslims say Rahman. They both die, fighting with each other without even getting a glimpse of him.)

Look at Facebook walls, flooded with posts about intolerance, religious hatred and you will realize the significance of what Kabir said many centuries ago.

As Kabir says, we have converted gods into our possessions and we have brought into limits the limitless.

If one looks at it closely, we stick to a god or a religion because it  makes us part of a tribe, or a group. Belonging to a group gives us a feeling of tremendous amount of safety and security. Religious people are not at all interested in god, they are rather interested in this feeling of security that being part of a cult brings.

I can surely say that the intolerance is born out of a false understanding of religion. Rather, a deliberate and wrong understanding of religion which is born out of our insecurity as an animal.

All the spiritual masters spoke about religion at an individual level. Some masters like Osho and Buddha did talk about being part of a community of seekers; but there focus was always an individual.

It is quite clear that the kind of religions we have today, will lead to more and more tension and intolerance. As the times become more difficult, due to increasing population, limited resources, uneven distribution of wealth, people will be more concerned about their own religion and less tolerant about the others.

tolerance

On a different level, the issue of tolerance is not only about religion. I would rather say, in this particular view, we are rather over tolerant- we tolerate it when people have no water to drink, work in unhealthy and unsafe work conditions, die without getting a morsel of food, are subjected to forced labor etc.

We discuss religious tolerance so much simply because we belong to a particular religion and are afraid of some other religion becoming more powerful than ours.

I look at the above couplet of Kabir in a much wider sense. A Hindu loves Rama, Muslim loves Rahman, Christian loves Christ and so on. Similarly, a capitalist loves situation to make money, a social worker loves the problems in the society, political leaders love divide among the people.

As Kabir rightly says, everyone loves what gives him security and a true religious man is one, who dares to face this insecurity, discovers his individuality and ceases to be a part of a cult.