Ignoring Great Advice

Jeff Haden writes a cogent piece on Inc. entitled ‘Why You So Often Ignore Great Advice‘. Here are some excerpts…

… people focus a lot less on the quality of advice, information, etc. than on the “quality” of the person who provides it. If Warren Buffett gives you a stock tip, you’ll listen; if the same advice comes from the guy who runs your local deli… probably not so much.

Most of the people you meet are not recognized as thought leaders and nor are they wildly successful. So you won’t automatically hang on their every word.

But you should always listen.

So strip away the framing you apply to the source. Strip away the setting or environment. Consider the advice, the information, or the opinion based solely on its merits. Sure, the quality of the source matters, but ultimately the quality of the information–and its relevance to your unique situation–matters a lot more.

It’s easy for most of us to get swayed by the opinions of those who are much more “experienced” than us, otherwise we run the risk of discounting their “learnings”. The fact remains we need to be objective and informed, and develop the ability to take all the available inputs, viewing them through the lens of relevance.

Thank you for the reminder, Jeff.

City of Joy

It’s been a while since I blogged. Moving to a new job has kept me busy, these past few months. It’s been a particularly demanding, challenging and exciting journey, but it hasn’t left me much time for anything else, including blogging. In August, I also moved my blogs to WordPress.com, and that migration took the good part of a precious weekend, but I digress. Before I joined my new employer, I took the opportunity to go on a trip to a city I’ve longed to see for more than a decade – Kolkata.

Kolkata is a city unlike any other in India, or so I’d heard until I actually saw it for myself. Now, I know it to indeed be so. I chose the last week of June – one of its hottest and most humid – not by choice, but because I was in between jobs and that was the only window I had. Yes, I’d done a fair bit of research online, and also spoken to my “bong” friends who were very generous with their long lists of things that should be ‘must-see’ on my agenda. But, I also wanted to keep it free flowing… experience Kolkata as it happens to me.

And, as it turned out, that was a wonderful idea!

I hailed a non-airconditioned yellow ambassador taxi from the airport, since that was the most classical way to traverse the city of joy. I’d chosen to stay on Sudder Street, since it was very popular with foreigners who backpacked across India, and also close to the famous Park Street. Sudder Street, and its adjoining New Market, were a full-blown sensory experience, giving me the chance to take in the sights and sounds of the city in all its glory. Most places I wanted to see were a short taxi ride away, which was convenient since it saved me a lot of time.

Over the course of the next four days, I did almost everything I wanted to do on my list – circumnavigate the famous Maidan, go to the Indian Museum, visit the Victoria Memorial monument, photograph St. Paul’s Cathedral, go up and down the legendary Park Street several times, ride the Kolkata Metro, spend some hours in the tranquil surroundings of the South Park Street Cemetery, drive over the Howrah and the Vidyasagar bridges, visit the old Howrah town, drive past Eden Gardens, experience the sprawling Science City on the outskirts, saw several street arguments, visit the glamorous and upmarket stretches of Salt Lake City, and of course use every opportunity to take in some Bengali food, including eating at Peter Cat (where my wife had enjoyed several meals as a youngster!).

In the end, the only things left unchecked on my list were a tram ride and a trip to see Mother Teresa’s home – these would have to wait until my next visit. Of course, there would be many more visits to come…

Kolkata touched me in a way that most cities haven’t, and I was glad that I was able to take this opportunity to experience it in a way that most tourists don’t. Kolkata has an uncanny ability to assimilate you into its culture. Once you’ve made it your own, so as to say, it’s almost impossible to see it like an “outsider” does. Most folks I know would have a love/hate relationship with the city – they would either think I’m nuts to think of Kolkata in these terms, or simply “get it”.

Vir Sanghvi described this sentiment beautifully when he wrote: “That’s why Calcutta is not for everyone. You want your cities clean and green; stick to Delhi. You want your cities, rich and impersonal, go to Bombay. You want them high-tech and full of draught beer, Bangalore’s your place. But if you want a city with a soul, come to Calcutta.

Face Book

Facebook has more than 800 million users worldwide, and is likely to hit the 1 Billion target in a few months time. How many Facebook “types” do you know of? And, which type are you?!

I can think of the following…

TV addicts – Those who never post, only come to watch the show
Lurkers – Again, hardly posting, but eager to comment on (or like) others’ posts
Faceless – Haven’t even got their profile pic up yet!
Super active – A tweet or an FB post every few minutes
Battle pickers – No matter what the topic, they have to pick a battle online
Forward addicts – Treasurehouse of interesting videos and funny pics
Shutter happy – Come back from any outing with 233 pics of the event!
Friend gatherers – Ahem, more than 500 pals on your FB list?!
WTF – They post alright, but you just can’t relate to them no more… 

Did I miss anything?

World’s Biggest Challenge

Hypothes.is – a brilliant, new startup – is attempting to solve what it calls “the world’s biggest challenge”!

Frustrated by the media?  Disillusioned by our seeming inability to come to grips with difficult issues?  Us too.  We think improving the credibility of the information we encounter is key to solving this problem.  In fact, we think it’s humanity’s biggest challenge.

Hypothes.is will be a distributed, open-source platform for the collaborative evaluation of information. It will enable sentence-level critique of written words combined with a sophisticated yet easy-to-use model of community peer-review. It will work wherever you are – as an overlay on top of news, blogs, scientific articles, books, terms of service, ballot initiatives, legislation and regulations, software code and more – without requiring participation of the underlying site

Hypothes.is is a non-profit effort built on strong principles, and a clear vision of what it wants to achieve.  When I first discovered it via Twitter, I was stunned by its clarity on the subject, from the concept video by its founder – Dan Whaley – to the FAQs that ask hard-hitting questions and answer them.

The project has been self-funded till now, but to deliver a working prototype, Hypothes.is has joined hands with Kickstart to help raise $100,000 via crowdsourcing.  Your pledged amount will not be charged unless they hit the goal.

Every dollar counts, and all of us will benefit from it. I’ve pledged my support, and hope you do too.

Update:
As on 13 Nov, 2011, Hypothes.is has raised over $230k from donors across the world!

An India that Deserves Better

It was in May of 2004 when I’d first blogged about a New, Improved India, based on the belief that a highly-educated economist being elected as the PM would help change India for the better.   India did change, but not for the better.

Within a few months, it had become evident that the Dr. Singh who was responsible for the visionary practices of globalization and liberalisation was not the Dr. Singh who was now the alleged “leader” of the country.  In fact, over the next few years, India would see multiple scams surfacing, each trying to outdo its predecessor in terms of the millions and billions it amassed for its kingpins.  And, the famous Dr. Singh was reduced to being no more than a mouthpiece for the venerable “G” clan – if at all he ever spoke!

Like thousands of others, I too saw a glimmer of hope when, a few months ago, a frail old man in a “Gandhi” cap – Anna Hazare – decided to take on the cause of “India Against Corruption” by declaring a fast-unto-death in the capital of the country.  He was doing so, in support of the Lokpal Bill that proposed strong measures against corrupt practices.

Frankly, the amount of activity online (Twitter, etc.) and on-ground, at the time, was a surprise to most of us.  But, the Govt. managed to postpone the problem by seeking some time to correct its steps and table the Bill.  Not one to give up easily, Anna promised that if suitable measures were not taken, he will return on 16th Aug – a day after India’s independence day.

What was eventually drafted by the ruling government was a completely stripped-down version of the Bill, with ommission or reduced liability for key stakeholders like the PM’s office and members of parliaments, and strict punishments for those who “wrongly” make an allegation of corruption!  And, true to his word, Anna was back.

By this time, however, the man had become a movement…

India Against Corruption was now a full-fledged initiative that sparked the imagination of millions of Indians, both here and abroad.  Twitter was abuzz with activity around hashtags like #anna and #janlokpal.  Thousands of people in most major towns responded to Anna’s call of jail bharo (fill the prisons), to mark their protest against the prevalent corruption.  Retired IPS officers and High Court judges were pledging their support in public.  Even NRIs were flying down from across the globe, in a show of solidarity!

Enough and more has been written about how India is a country that is too large and diverse to manage.  And, about how every coalition government has to make tradeoffs that may not be acceptable.  But today, for the first time, I feel that as a people, we have had enough.  The citizens of India are demanding a better government.  The citizens of India – youth and disabled included – are bunking classes and taking leave from work, to show up for candle marches and protest gatherings, at places like Azad Maidan and Tihar Jail…

800+ voluntarily got themselves jailed in Mumbai, just a few days ago.   Thousands have been detained in Tihar Jail already.  Hundreds of thousands are spreading awareness via SMS and tweets, to their friends and family.  1.5 million have pledged their support via the Facebook group – Jai Ho!  And, more than 13 million have registered their voice of dissent via missed calls, as reported by the IAC website.

Yes, some of us are still wishing that this is just a phase, and that “this too shall pass”.  Some of us are still squabbling over semantics, and questioning the “unparliamentary” manner in which this movement has grown from strength to strength.  Some of us are still arguing that as long as we continue to grease palms to expedite things, we have no right to protest against corrupt practices.

But, there is no denying that, what started as one man’s fight for an India that deserved more, has become a movement for which Anna is but a symbol – a face.  Nearly a century ago, a man named M.K. Gandhi taught us that you can shake a nation from its slumber, and oust a colonial ruler, by non-violent means. Today, Anna is using those means to re-ignite a spark in millions.  And, he’s doing more for our society than most of us ever will in our lifetime.

I support Anna because Life is hard as it is, and for decades, we Indians have (mistakenly) lived with the belief that we are like this only.  I support Anna because it takes a lot to get the youth of our country to even care about what’s happening to it.  I support Anna because he may be our only hope, in our fight against corruption and injustice, and an ineffective government.  I support Anna because, years later, when my grandchildren ask me if I had any role to play in the “freedom struggle” of my time, I want to be able to say “Yes, I did!”

I do hope that this flame does not die out too soon… for your sake and mine.

Read Also:
Wikipedia on Jan Lokpal Bill (Anti Corruption) of India
Answering Anna’s critics: 10 posers and rebuttals