Eventually, Are You The Product?

Escher - Hands holding Sphere

The maker is the product!

The sense of the doer, being the subject that performs all actions, dominates most conventional perceptions of selfhood. The thoughts we have, the actions we perform, the feelings we perceive are all posited upon our sense of being, the platform upon all action is conducted.

A reversal has taken place, from being an actor we are the one being acted upon.

This is especially so in our external field of action, our work & career. We stumble, we learn, we get better. And begin taking pride in our accomplishments. See ourselves as the force and lever which upholds the works issued from us. The product we created or worked upon, the services we offered, the kind word to the one in need of hope, the offensive poise to the one whose bubble needed bursting and more. We look behind in pride to a bouquet of works and accomplishments.

However, in moments when we peer behind and below the surface of our being, we find that the ‘I’ that started the journey is no longer there! Here is another in its place. Whether nobler or baser, wider or narrower depends on the detours of our individual journeys but the old I is no more.

A dispassionate analysis would lead us to conclude that while we were engaged in making our mark on the world, the world in turn has quietly, with nary a whisper, has worked upon us. And in time we have become another. While we were busy building ‘products’, there was another being built out by Nature and Time. A reversal has taken place, from being an actor we are the one being acted upon.

A materialistic approach to life does tend to consider this under skill-development and pay some attention to it via organisational principles and practices. But I like to view this phenomena by the term self-development, or Self-Development. A factor that will be crucial to building organisations that not only serve customers but also serve as the field of inner and outer growth for employees in it.

Perhaps this is very far away from a pragmatic implementation perspective, but thought would throw it out here for your thoughts & perspectives.

Belief System for Continual Progress

William_Faulkner

Ta-Nehisi Coates shares snippets from an interview with William Faulkner. The topic being the amoralism(lacking a moral sense) of being a writer. I would not have characterized it as “amoralism” but rather as “belief system”. Faulkner sizzles in articulating this belief system of a novelist, and perhaps of himself. All that he says is 100% true of any creative endeavor- whether you are starting a company, creating a product, participating in a competition or learning music. This is like Arjuna, or perhaps Achilles, talking about what it takes to be a warrior. Go digest these words:

Impossible Goal

All of us failed to match our dream of perfection. So I rate us on the basis of our splendid failure to do the impossible. In my opinion, if I could write all my work again, I am convinced that I would do it better, which is the healthiest condition for an artist. That’s why he keeps on working, trying again; he believes each time that this time he will do it, bring it off. Of course he won’t, which is why this condition is healthy. Once he did it, once he matched the work to the image, the dream, nothing would remain but to cut his throat, jump off the other side of that pinnacle of perfection into suicide.

I simply love the axiom-like assertion of the first sentence and the oxymoron(splendid failure) in the second. Act and raise yourself. And repeat! Perfection is an impossibility, so get ever closer to it. The striving is its own reward.

Formula to Follow

Ninety-nine percent talent . . . ninety-nine percent discipline . . . ninety-nine percent work. He must never be satisfied with what he does. It never is as good as it can be done. Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.

Your swabhava, inner disposition, is to be the guide of your efforts. Following the law meant for another only leads to chaos, jealousy, confusion. The Gita declares the same thing, to follow your own dharma rather than that of another.

Demons and Muses

An artist is a creature driven by demons. He don’t know why they choose him and he’s usually too busy to wonder why. He is completely amoral in that he will rob, borrow, beg, or steal from anybody and everybody to get the work done.

Two opposing elements churn the being of an artist or a creator. The one is bright, luminous and leads him to higher ground. The other is dark, brooding, wrathful and doubting. Between these opposing pulls our being is churned. We laugh, cry, dream, suffer and create. All our works are born thus.

Creator’s Responsibility

The writer’s only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then. Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency, security, happiness, all, to get the book written.

Focus and resourcefulness. A single minded aspiration to realize the dream. Nothing else distracts him from that endeavor.

Art Can Come From

Good art can come out of thieves, bootleggers, or horse swipes. People really are afraid to find out just how much hardship and poverty they can stand. They are afraid to find out how tough they are. Nothing can destroy the good writer. The only thing that can alter the good writer is death. Good ones don’t have time to bother with success or getting rich.

Faulkner really nails this one. What do you fear? What are you willing to sacrifice to create something? What will make you stop trying?

Two Perspectives on Leadership

There are as many perspectives on Leadership as there are people. While watching Game of Thrones I could not help but notice the two contrasting approaches to leadership, as embodied by Ned Stark and Joffrey Baratheon.

Joffrey_Baratheon-Throne

Let us start with one extreme. Joffrey Baratheon, kinghood has been conferred upon him by the accident of birth. He knows he has power but does not understand power. He has not paid the price to be crowned, events beyond his control have led him to the throne. But all he sees is power, he does not understand its responsibilities, has no inherent trait of leading and guiding men, no impulse to fairness, no empathy to his subjects. Power he has and he exercises it. With all the smugness of one born to wealth and power, all pleasure and indulgence but no reflection, no self-questioning. His ego has deluded him to attribute his position to his own being.

EddardStark-Throne

In contrast, Ned Stark, Lord of Winterfell, knows he does not belong on the Iron Throne. He does not like, perhaps even despises power. Kinghood to him is a burden. He understands the machinations, the politics, the betrayals that underlie the crown. He lives by his values..brotherhood, family, his people and above all the honor of a warrior. He has strength, is battle-scarred. The burden of responsibility weighs upon his actions. Deliberate and methodical, his actions issue out of him as a craftsman chisels his jewels.

Two contrasting approaches out of the many that are possible to leadership. To be aware of what style one is employing, a recognition of our origins and our destinations and the legacy we wish to be known by are the starting point for grounded leadership.

Good leaders lead not just by the power that resides with their position. They lead with skills, with empathy, with humility. Purpose and principles motivate their actions. They do not look down upon their subjects however high the seat. They understand the ephemerality of power, the transient nature of events.

Through all this good leaders lead. And the bad ones gloat and relish their transient power enroute to their impending downfall.

Conflict is Fuel for Creativity

scream and shout

But why do you hate them?“, said the slightly exasperated friend.

My reply, paraphrased, was “Hate is too strong a word, I need a psychological crutch for motivation. Even an imaginary conflict is useful. Just as we did for our previous product when our competitor had to die!

Conflict has a bad reputation. Much like anger it is painted in a negative shade.

But there is a constructive way to view the situation, especially if you are a fledgling startup.

At the heart of all progress and creativity is a small kernel that sees the world differently.

A better way to do work, a better way to watch movies and so on. This different world view might not be what entrenched incumbents want.

But that is how it always is. Incumbents want nothing to change. Remember incumbents are invariably ex-dreamers who got comfortable, who latch on to the present than reaching out for the future.

As a side note, it is best to assess oneself, especially if you have a history of having pushed yourself in the past. Are you still reaching out or are you grasping for what you can get now? Are you part of the future being born or a past holding onto what is left?

To progress one has to intimately feel that a better way is possible, the existing scenario should just be unacceptable.

What you choose to be in conflict with is dependent on what you wish to accomplish. It could be how you feel about any social condition, about how people listen to music, or how people read e-books.

What matters is that you feel the conflict and help push the scenario forward.

If you feel nothing or love the present dearly then I wish you bold and grand conflicts that inspire action!

Conflict is fuel for creativity. Embrace it.

Creative Commons License Mindaugas Danys via Compfight

Applause and You

There is little else more seductive than the applause of your peers.

To be looked upon with a mixture of awe, reverence, admiration and perhaps even jealousy.

As social creatures our sense of identity depends a lot on what others think of us.

Left unchecked it turns into a trap, a little ruse of our ego to deceive us.

Any recognition is good in principle, but to be drunk on it and forget what brought us here is an error.

Be wary of applause, as you would be of a boisterous drunkard who might go off at anytime. Keep your distance.

Your accomplishments driven by effort and diligence is beautiful on its own.

The adoration of half-wits is a blot upon your spirit. Do not yield.

How Would a Billion Dollars Sit on You?

instagram logo

Mike Krieger, co-Founder of Instagram, shares how their photo-sharing service was scaled to 30million users in under 2 years. The slide is at the bottom of this post too. What caught my eye though was the below quote on TechCrunch:

Considering his company was just bought for $1 billion, it’s a pretty remarkable effort, 185 slides in all.

Then it struck me, Instagram was acquired for a billion dollars less than a week back. And here is a co-founder sharing technical details of how the technical infrastructure was scaled. Not sure if it sank in for you but I spaced out for a few moments!

Imagine, you have many hundred million dollars on you, acquired by the largest social network on the planet, built the current hottest photo-sharing product and you talk technology to a bunch of geeks!

And no, the slide preparation might not have been delegated to a minion, there are only 13 employees!

Gentlemen, this is behavior worth emulating. Much much dollars have barely registered on Mike Krieger. And guess what I have seen people who fall for silly labels, who play power games for a tag worth nothing beyond corporate walls, or see themselves on pedestals for relatively small reasons. To be candid, I have fallen prey to this sometimes too, though I take care to remember where I started and come back to normalcy.

So, now to you. How would a billion dollars sit on you? Where does building things of lasting value sit in your priorities?

And yes, awesome tech details in the presentation, do not miss it.

(My colleague Jeethu brought this to my attention, a big thanks to him!)

Affiliation and Accomplishment

The shoe does not run

Runners run. Shoes dont.

Affiliation and Accomplishment, two entirely different concepts yet easy to confuse one for another.

An affiliation is a label, a marker of sorts. Usually granted to mark an accomplishment but not often as one would want.

The ones seeking shortcuts look for the affiliation first, accomplishment can be done later they think.

The wannabe runner who wears a Nike, does not magically become a runner who endures through physical and mental limits.

The one born into a priestly class, does not automatically become a man of luminous knowledge.

The professional desiring labels(Manager, AVP, VP, ‘anything pompous’), will realize gods of technology or strategy have not taken over his being.

The one who covets the label falls for the dumbest trick, a semantic sleight of hand.

Affiliation is sexy, it flaunts its labels like a super model would.

Accomplishment is work, it is sleepless nights, grease or ink tainted hands, aching wrists and bleary eyes.

Accomplishment is hard. It requires learning, thinking and doing. Over and over again.

Accomplishment is enduring. It survives opinions of lesser men, builds a lasting edifice.

How you are aligned now, whether to accomplishment or affiliation is not permanent either.

One has to choose to stay accomplished. One can choose to become accomplished.

Mere Affiliation is a bad place to be. Once you choose to fall for make believe you will fall for anything.

Photo Credit: lululemon athletica via Compfight

How to become susceptible to creativity

My post on a Frost quote about ‘right reader of good poetry‘ helped me understand that ‘susceptibility’ to the ‘immortal wound’ of receiving poetry is key.

Can creativity be taught?

Thinking on the same lines, I asked myself, can creativity be taught? But what would one teach? Would it be the Kubrick-ian ability to conjure up and frame human dramas? Would we teach the mechanics of cognition and the roots of thinking itself? Or would we learn about human failure fueling study and reinterpretation of epics? Or should we do the in thing and do a Freud on Steve Jobs?

The methods seem to be many. The question remains – can one be made susceptible to creativity? My answer would be yes, creativity can be taught. But teaching is just one part of the equation, the learning side is often skewed with difficulties. There is a curious mixture of tenacity, focus and some unknown alchemy that goes into creating and creativity. I have attempted to capture some basic principles that should help get someone be more creative.

Disassemble

Learning from what has been done before is the quickest way to seed your head with basic ideas. It could be a piece of software code, a toy or a poem. Dissect it into its components and learn what role is played by every component, how it interacts with other components and how it all fits together to become a whole.

Better it

Once you are done dissecting and understanding now try to better it. What would you improve? Which aspect would you change? What consequences would it have on realizing the end goal? It does not matter if you don’t actually do it. Imagine you will and work out the details. This stage is all about possibilities. Capture these possibilities as UX mockups, design sketches or scribbles in a diary. It does not matter if you do not pursue it. What matters is that you churn out possibilities.

Seek feedback

After possibility generation is the crucial step of gathering feedback. Choose the right judge, do not ask a poet to critique your proposal to revolutionize fuel consumption in turbo engines. In this step you will realize the awesomeness of the human mind. What you mulled about for ages and thought it impossible to add or remove from, another mind will pick apart in seconds. This assumes you have a competent circle of acquaintances. While disappointment is inevitable, what should not be done is to self-critique yourself. The journey you took is essential for yourself.

Continue producing possibilities and getting feedback. At a certain point in time you will find the feedback being restricted to superficialities or turning into admiration. That is when you realize you need a bigger goal and/or a better judge.

Seek diversity

There comes a point in time when you can create but it does not have that something unique which makes people admire or want it. That is when you know you have been focussed too long. Diversity or variety of topics is essential for a healthy creative mind. If you are a programmer, wander around the philosophy aisle of your library. If a poet, stick around in a mechanic’s shop for a day. Walk around your neighborhood, observe everything. Think about why things are so and not otherwise.

Slowly you will see similarities between the most divergent of topics, patterns will emerge. Translating or extrapolating patterns from one domain into another always yields new insights. This way you could raise your game without being bored ever.

Allow conflict

Creativity is not just a function of the skills acquired. The worldview of the creator plays a very big role. A very popular example is that influence of Zen on Steve Jobs and his design aesthetic. But a firm worldview does not usually allow for other views to seep in. This must go. Allow conflict. You need not be steamrolled by every opinion that passes you way. Consider a conflicting view, assess it for its merits. Take what seems appropriate for your goals and leave the rest. Handling conflict is a key trait that will make you a better person and help grow character.

Nurture Angst

The one I don’t know how to explain! Angst to me is that inexplicable thorn that propels all creative individuals. This is a thorn that eggs them to create and change the world. To mould the world into something it is not. If you do not have this angst perhaps you have not thought enough. If you do have it, then good. Nurture this angst, foster it. From that fire will emerge all that you would spew out in this world.

That is a brief list. Now its up to you, what would you add to this list?