Never Conform

Recently while researching about group dynamics among people, I stumbled upon a decades old set of psychological experiments conducted by Solomon Asch in 1951. These pathbreaking experiments show how societal pressure causes a person to conform.

Conformity (spelled as [kuh n-fawr-mi-tee]) is defined by as an action in accordance with prevailing social standards, attitudes and practises. Solomon Asch’s experimental procedure was very simple. Collect a set of ‘confederates or actors’ in a room with a real test participant who doesn’t know that the others are playing according to a set script. A vision test is presented to the room where the actors answer incorrectly on purpose. It was found that this action caused the participant to conform and begin answering incorrectly. In about 18 trials conducted by Asch, the confederates gave incorrect answers to about 12 trials. 75% of the participants conformed to the majority view over a series of experiments. Most of them confessed later that they did not believe in their answers that they provided. But they instead went with the group for the fear of being ridiculed or being thought of as “peculiar”. Solomon while analyzing the participant results mentioned that there are two reasons why people conform:

  • Normative influence: Because they want to fit in the group
  • Informative influence: Because they believe that the group is better informed than they are

Does the above statements ring a bell to you? Growing up in India or the Middle East, I have seen countless times how I was forced to adapt to a set thinking that was developed or defined by someone unknown to me. In an example of normative influence, you had to do what you were told to do in order to ‘fit into the crowd and have a better life’. The Indian education system prepared students in such a way that while wearing uniforms to the school, you were considered equal in a class of 40 or something. You had to study the same materials, memorize them and spit them out in examinations. The system assumed that everyone had the same abilities and the society always encouraged those who could memorize the given subject matter and score exceptional marks in the exams. Those who did not have any ability to memorize but were proficient in other skills were derided and humiliated till they fit or adapted themselves into the system that was created over the years and was one that was meant for subservience. This meritocracy was designed for individuals till they reach adulthood. One was then asked to find ‘government jobs’ or ‘private jobs’ where he/she worked, later married and lived happily ever after. The system (in an example of informative influence) ensured that you were ‘conformed’ and ‘designed’ to be a well-paid and industrious servant.

I would like to believe that many of my readers have watched the movie The Prestige. If you recollect, you can find how the team members of the magician ensured that the trick played to the script by infiltrating the audience and participating in it. If you remember the tale of Good Friday, one can clearly see how the Sanhedrin clearly infiltrated the crowd with their supporters and conformed them into demanding for Barabbas instead of Jesus. Think about how the Christian Church destroyed any remnants of science or rational thought for centuries by conforming people who may think different to be silent, threatening them with excommunication to even being burnt alive in a stake. Think about how day by day the moderate Muslim community is being asked to conform to acts of violence done because of the skewed definition of their religion by a few retards. Think about how the media shapes up or ‘manages’ public opinion by keeping people conformed to their definition of what is right and just. There are countless examples such as these. Think for a moment about yourself, who is being asked to conform to a lacklustre career and mediocre life due to societal or family pressures and think where you would be if you actually begin to have a different vision or objective for your life.

Last month this blog marked a major milestone when I published its 100th post. I have been blogging since 2007, showcasing various lessons that I have learnt cruising through adulthood. The vision for this blog is the same. It is to provide you my dear reader with the encouragement to have your own opinion and not conform to what a group, society or organization thinks about you. I would like to leave the reader with a famous Apple ad which outlined their vision.

Concluding, I would like to urge my readers to always ‘think different’, ‘never settle’ and ‘not to conform’.

Photo Credit: brookeshaden via Compfight cc

Why I hate M&A?

I am a big big opponent of mergers and acquisitions and no matter whatever is being promised, most often people who spend day and night striving to build the company end up paying a heavy price.

On the morning of March 28, a horrendous news broke about Best Buy closing all the Future Shop locations in Canada. Eventually that day which was feared for a long time by many Canadians loyal to Future Shop finally happened. Future Shop was a Canadian-only brick and mortar consumer electronic store, which was purchased by Best Buy years ago. I was a frequent visitor at both these shops,  but the better terms and conditions meted out to the Future Shop employees made it a better place with a great customer experience over Best Buy. If you have visited any Best Buy location in North America you would know why the company is in red mainly because of the poor customer service. Sadly Future Shop is no more and the brand has been terminated with 500 full-time and 1,000 part-time positions that will also be eliminated. I am a big, big opponent of mergers and acquisitions and no matter whatever is being promised,  most often people who spend day and night striving to build the company end up paying a heavy price.

The true reason why a company gets bought in majority of cases is purely commercial in nature. When a big company gobbles up a smaller company,  it’s a period of transformation for both companies. If proper infusion of talent is allowed between the companies, often it ends up being a good business proposition. When two companies with different cultures collide and amalgamate,  most of the time it ends up acrimoniously. The last company I worked with was gobbled up by a large state owned foreign company.  Even though promises were made to retain all employees, hundreds of people were sadly laid off eventually. I moved on quickly before anything like that happened to me. But I personally witnessed the bloodshed of the culture,  values and the spirit of the company that I once was proudly part of. There are many examples like that all over the world. One good example would be when Microsoft took over Nokia’s mobility division, it led to one of the most beloved names in cellphone business ceasing operations for a while and in the name of consolidation, it butchered the livelihood of thousands of people.

Another fact that you must have noticed is that M&A might be designed to stifling competition but  doesn’t always achieve the desired outcome. I hate monopolies created by M&A and most of the time they falter after a while as they forget to innovate. Sirius and XM were two satellite radio companies. Today they are one company that was formed when Sirius Radio purchased XM radio. Recently I was reading how the company is faltering as no one cares about satellite radio anymore and would only day prefer a music streaming app like Spotify. When Best Buy monopolized the Canadian electronic market,  it wasn’t able to match up to the nimbleness of an Internet giant like, which rendered the brick and mortar shops to the status of window-shopping centres. It would be years before Best Buy could come up with a coherent strategy to counter the latter.

I have always believed that each company has an agenda for profit making, set of values and culture that it wants to follow to conduct the business and the humans who toil to perform and achieve the business outcomes or objectives. The leadership sets the culture and the vision to steer the company forward. Most of the time, I have seen that once the leadership runs out of ideas, instead of gracefully stepping aside, they end up selling the company, with deals mostly done over a  round of golf (P.S:- I am being figurative here :)).

Today everyone speaks volumes about wireless charging.  Did you know that over a century ago an amazing man called Tesla discovered wireless charging? Since he was unlucky to stand against the might of Thomas Alva Edison, many of his inventions today are sadly footnotes. If the mighty utility companies had the courage to adopt his inventions,  we wouldn’t be seeing these ugly electric transmission lines in our eyesight in today’s modern towns and cities. Also energy would have been made available seamlessly to millions of people who till date live without the benefits of energy.

I have read tales of how Google buys up independent apps, absorb the developers,  shut down the app and move on by trying to incorporate it as a feature in one of their offerings. Most of the time the app developers,  fattened with a huge paycheck leave after couple of years to a relaxing life elsewhere. This pattern has seen itself manifest again and again in the Silicon Valley with all the major companies. Hence due to this profit motive, M&A renders any technology disruption initiatives to a mere whimper.

I understand that the true nature of a business is to generate profit and also to maximize it’s potential to generate greater incomes year after year. But I do believe that it can only happen with a leadership that has the vision and a nimble, inspired workforce that can execute the vision and in fact exceed the expectations demanded by that vision. The company should always keep disrupting it’s field of business through continuous innovation and relentless pursuit of creative, sustainable and meaningful ideas. It should take calculated risks and learn quickly from them to become bigger and better each year. This is the hard way.  M&A is the easiest. Which one would your company take?

Image courtesy:*600/FullSizeRender[1]2.jpg

Be your narrative

However, everyone has the right to script their own narrative. No one should be forced to accept what is notion of how others think about them or their viewpoint on how they should live their life. We are all the Masters of our own destiny. And we cannot allow anyone to dominate that belief.

Does anyone remember the year 1998? It was the time of adolescence and the emergence of a powerful tool called the Internet. I still remember growing up in the Middle East, how this service that seemingly connected you with the world made its way into our lives. It was an expensive service that gave you the latest information from across the world and the ability to chat and see everyone from strangers to loved ones. It was expensive then at 10 AED ($3 USD) per hour that came with a connection using a telephone dial up connection. It was an exciting new technology and showed how computers that were used in those days for making word documents and playing car /cricket games could be used for connecting with people. Those days were famous for breaking news with the last significant one being the OJ Simpson trial that wrapped earlier keeping the whole world in its tenterhooks. 1998 however came to be known for a different reason. The Clinton Lewinsky affair and the Starr report.

Bill Clinton was a very successful president. He had a fabulous first term where he rescued America from post Gulf War recession onto the path of prosperity. He was rewarded handsomely with a second term and the future of the U.S looked bright like never before. Then came the sex scandals. It hit him hard with revelations from every nook and corner from various women who had sexual flings with the president. One of them stuck on to him like a blood thirsty mosquito-the Lewinsky affair.

What happened next was simply a tsunami of news. People were talking everywhere on how the most powerful man on Earth used the respected White House to have a fling with a intern. It was the topic on the newspapers, radio, television, friends, coffee shops, and even religious places where voices were heard on how absolute power corrupts. Even in this strange new medium called the Internet, we had chat rooms where you could hook up with any random stranger online and discuss the Clinton Lewinsky affair. It was the topic of discussion everywhere. Even though both of them were criticized heavily, however the narrative went against Monica Lewinsky.Then came the grand confession from Clinton that he had lied under oath to the American people. It was hard for the people to forgive the president but he did escape impeachment. During that time till 1998, this issue was the staple diet for news media across the world. Bill Clinton was heavily insulated from many of the criticism because of the immunity he enjoyed as the president. But Monica Lewinsky totally disappeared from public light. She was ridiculed for years and no one heard of her or even spoke of her.

It all changed last week. In the TED talk held in Vancouver last year she came as a keynote speaker to speak about her life and the harassment that she faced. During her hiatus, the Internet developed itself into a mammoth of information including its presence in toppling governments, spearheading change, discussion and also a place where people who freely express themselves without limits. The world of 2015 has shrunk itself into a village place where millions of people have discussions over the color of a dress to choosing the name of a celebrity kid. It is into this world where Monica has resurfaced herself as a champion against online bullying or in some words trolling. She aspired to get hold of her life’s narrative back and also help others script their narrative in a world where you would be booed, jeered and even insulted by strangers before you can take a single step.

Online bullying or trolling depicts the brutal nature of human hypocrisy. It facilitates easy mudslinging in the guise of an online identity to tar individuals and the hard earned reputations. I have seen bullying in both real and virtual worlds. Though it is easy to stand up to real life bullying, it is however not entirely easy to do it in the same way online. Last year during the Indian election, yours truly supported a nationalist candidate for the position of the Indian Prime Minister. Any post if posted on social media drew fierce debates from people misinformed by a corrupt Indian media narrative. Friends quickly turned foes and any difference of opinion was construed as betrayal and was shunned by either blocking or losing of the online friendship. But eventually when my favoured candidate won, many friends were never seen after.

I am not saying that no one has a right to their own opinion. Maybe many of the friends might have felt that by having a different opinion and boldly broadcasting it to their timelines, I am also being a bully. It is hard to say is there a fine line segregating them. However, everyone has the right to script their own narrative. No one should be forced to  accept what is notion of how others think about them or their viewpoint on how they should live their life. We are all the Masters of our own destiny. And we cannot allow anyone to dominate that belief.

Politics: Left, Right, Straight, etc.

I have followed politics since the time I can remember yet I was never enamored by it. My FB profile states me as a ‘Liberal by mind and a Conservative’ by heart. I have spend a lot of time in my life trying to understand what is the difference between both the right and left wings of the political spectrum? Which is more important, is it the belief that:

  • The development of the country comes first and it will percolate into the development of people.
  • Or the development of the people and the various socio-economic factors that influence them that might lead to the development of the country.

A seasoned political observer who reads these lines above may argue that is not the correct way to define both the right vs. left. Please consider it only as my perspective.

I was raised up in a kingdom. I lived a good amount of life in a society where there was no left way or the right way-it was only the king’s way. As we were expatriates, we had to work hard, make money, pay the home rent, go for annual vacations, come back, work hard, make money…and the cycle goes on forever. This was what we had to be worried about-executing this cycle. There was no taxes to be paid, no need to worry about the condition of the roads, bureaucracy or even the plight of state transportation, there was no democratic engagement-there was never a democracy or even a representative. If you cannot continue the cycle of life, you can leave. The king ensured his subjects were pampered and well treated. The expatriates broke their back working hard for the glory of the king and kingdom.

Come to India, the native country and one is presented with a different picture. People pay taxes, elect their representatives, have a say in the decision making process, have to suffer with crumbling infrastructure-everything was a stark contrast to what was seen in the kingdom. Since I come from a politically sensitive state, where the worker class belonged to the left movement, the rich class and landowners belonged to the right and the nationalists were derided as religious fanatics and shunted away. My state was the first place in the entire world where there was a democratically elected communist government (it happened at a time when US was so sensitive to the communist movement that they had to intervene to get the government shunted out- a post for a different day).

The left movement of my state was a thrilling experience to be in. There was power in your voice- your thoughts and beliefs for a better world with equality and fairness can resonate quickly in this movement. For a staunchly raised Christian, I could resonate easily with the Kingdom of God concept and the communist movement. With exemplary leaders, scarred life long with the scars from their revolutionary past-it simply made sense. Left is the correct way. People come first, the country is next. But again life is never one-dimensional. Beliefs and thoughts are a free commodity since they come from within you- however acting on them can be costly.

So where does the money come from for the actions? It’s with the landowners and the business people. For them profit is the primary objective and they use their acumen to convert capital into business. Successful business generates cash flow and is built on human efforts. More cash flow equals more business people and more businesses. More people thus get employed and the cycle goes on. It is a noble cycle where the state gets its share from the taxes and uses it for infrastructure, economic and social development. This is where the right wing comes into play. They control businesses that run the country or in today’s times they run the country. Left may be correct- but there is only one right way.

Nationalistic parties prop up in the abyss of right wing and left wing politics. Mostly they latch on to an ideology that can be religious, linguistic or even based on societal systems and factors as a means to capture power and steer the country forward. They believe that they can be the best bet to balance both the business aspirations and worker desires as means to attain social equality in the long run i.e., they try to be the best of both worlds. Most of the time they end up doing too much or too little and in the end faltering into either the right wing or the left wing camps.

As you can see there are three different sets of political thoughts and process with many grey areas between them-unlike from a kingdom, where the king takes the final decision, wages wars, eliminates dissent and ensure free, fair rule for all. As much as power is concentrated on one individual to deliver, it also empowers him to do things, which he feels is right. However in a democracy it is not like that. Its all about either politics or governance. I think both can never be inclusive yet rather exclusive.

I spend a good amount of my time believing in either and getting disillusioned with the realization that as time goes on there seem to be not much difference between both of them. For e.g., in Canada, the province that I live has always voted Conservatives (right) for more than three decades. Most of the time the polling percentages are low with mostly farmer voters, who are frightened of the Liberals (left) with their tax increases. My province due to its abundant natural resources is wealthy with lowest taxes and crumbling infrastructure. If you take an Eastern province like Ontario, one can find very high taxes, increased voter participation with dwindling economic fortunes- causing people to migrate in large numbers to my province. If you take India, my state is alternatively ruled by the Left and Right-in startling precision that the socio-economic factors are among the highest in the country- however with poor infrastructure and high attrition (a common refrain is that young people are leaving and the old people are dying).

Which is right? I think all of them (kingdom, right, left and nationalistic) have only slowed the march of human progress and have delayed a society where there is equality and fairness, where every human is empowered to do the right thing. I believe that the latter exists only in a childhood fantasy will never be possible in a world like today. It is important to do your part in doing the right thing always with a greater perspective and focus for the betterment of human race because all political systems and beliefs may change, your liberal nature in accepting everyone and your passion to do the right thing for others will remain as your legacy-which in the end will only last.

Stop thinking too much…or should you?

Each and every one of us at one time in our lives have been accused by someone or the other of this fatal flaw- thinking too much. Whenever we have issues in life, whenever we find something is not right, we spend time thinking a myriad of thoughts. Every new thing or event in our life we try to understand and reason, sometimes with deep and profound thought. If you google “thought quotes” you are presented with an array of quotes by famous people about this aspect of the human condition- i.e., thoughts. Have you ever felt crippled by thoughts or have you ever been unable to come into terms on how to control your thinking? As always some pointers for help and discussion.
  1. Thinking is an excellent idea: Our small thoughts are like water bodies. Most of the time water bodies are connected or eventually flow into a bigger water source such as an ocean. Our small thoughts should be allowed to flow into such bigger thoughts because if you search within an ocean, you may find some deep treasures. Our small thoughts should be allowed to grow bigger and join with its source for us to unlock its true potential- the message. Most of the time, unfortunately, we don’t think too much because we have been told from childhood to get stuff done, no matter what. In doing so, we drown our ability to think and rationalize. Remember just as we are given two hands to work and two legs to move ourselves in getting our work done, we are given our mind to understand why are we doing the work and what will it accomplish in addition to how we can do the task at hand in a better way.
  2. There are no good or bad thoughts: Am I stretching it too far by saying that there are no bad thoughts? Suppose there is someone who has left a deep and intense wound in your life and the very thought of that person, you would like to just destroy or eliminate him/her in the best possible way. Is that a good thought? Nope. Is it a bad thought? Nope. It is your feeling at that time which makes you think in such a way. Instead of running away, you should encourage that thought. Think of how you can eliminate or teach him a lesson. Then as you think further you will be presented with outcomes- execute a plan at getting even or do nothing. Your mind then explains the outcomes to you where in the former case you may invite trouble and sometimes disastrous consequences at a cost or in the latter case you can train yourselves at forgiveness and letting go with the hope that by doing so, you accumulate good karma for the future. Also doing the latter is difficult than the former, but more rewarding. Thus by allowing and training the mind to reason in such a way, you open newer doors of enlightenment and understanding, you never thought you ever had!
  3. Never stop thinking: Most of the time I have seen how good initiatives don’t reach their intended outcomes, not by what is not done but by a lack of thought put into it (it results in a product with no purpose). Think about this, we are amazing products created with deep thought and purpose and put in this world for this time and age for a reason. The thinking that has gone behind our creation is unfathomable. So if we are created in the image of God, why should we not think before we leap, think before we act, think before we talk? What is wrong in thinking? I believe the biggest mistake is not when we think but when we don’t think.
In a day of 24 hours, we spend upto 8 hrs sleeping, 8 hrs working and the remaining time for eating, enjoying or getting things done in our quest for a meaningful life. We should spend atleast one hour thinking about our purpose and search within ourselves and our experiences for meaning in our lives. If we can create this margin in our lives on a go forward basis, we will be able to change our it significantly and live an enormously successful and resourceful life.

Stop consuming, start creating

Our role as humans is not to consume, but to work hard at creating a better world for us, others and our future generations. We can consume to be prepared, but we have to be prepared to create.

Have you ever wondered each day, the amount of content that gets thrown to you. You wake up and check your Facebook and you are bombarded with updates from friends and various organizations, you open up Twitter and you can witness the various hashtag battles that anyone with a username has with unknown strangers, delivering lethal blows to all those who try to disagree with them. You shut the computer off and as you switch on your television, you are either in a 24 x 7 news cycle or in the never ending reality shows, television shows, syndicated shows to anything that can provoke your thoughts and sometimes even instigate your intelligence to thinking in their way and ideas. Now you switch the TV off and you can hear tales and opinions from everyone around you. You go to a boring job, hoping to change the world-only to end up working in a desk job, under a boss, who works under a boss, who himself works under someone else. You do what you are told to do and when you get tired of doing that, you end up looking for newer pastures where you can work under someone in a better position but still within the realm of the earlier cycle. This cycle goes on till one day, you are lowered six feet beneath the ground and people pray around you.

This my friends is the irony of the human life. We are in a never ending cycle of slavery. I remember reading in history texts how slavery was abolished everywhere in the free world by the second world war. But from reading the stark reality of your life from the above paragraph, I don’t think anything has changed, except for the fact that slavery has become more civilized!

With the rapid population increase, we are at a pivotal point in human history where we have enormous amount of resources in terms of people, finance , etc., to get things done; we have the tools at our disposal to create anything that we dream; we have the means to learn, means to fight the system-means to do everything. Then why are we not doing something to change the world we live in? Population is increasing, resources are depleting-we still live in a hydrocarbon economy, we still drive internal combustion engines (since 1920s), we still haven’t colonized any planets and we still haven’t figured out wireless electrical transmission (N. Tesla discovered it in mid 19th century) and most parts of the world are dark-with no electricity,rampant poverty and never ending sickness. We live in a hyper commercialized capitalistic system, where incremental changes are made to technology and our way of life. Our education teaches us to be continue the slave mindset, and we are forced to cheer about the next football game played between millionaires in a stadium in Europe or nearby.

What has happened to us? We belonged to a human race that hunted at one time for food, that looked up to the skies and figured out world afar without any instruments, that knew the age of a tree by listening to the chopping of the wood , etc. Today we live in a world where we consume, consume and consume!

Why don’t we stop this stupidity? Lets do a simple exercise. Let us stop what we are doing, close our rooms, shut off the cellphones and our computer and simply close our eyes. We see darkness-lets remain in that darkness for sometime. Then lets think, what can I contribute to this world each day? If I think I am living a perfect life, what am I doing about the imperfectness in a world that was perfect since creation? Ideas will start floating in and before you know, you will be energized by that unknown power that has been waiting for a long time for you to ask this question!

Our role as humans is not to consume, but to work hard at creating a better world for us, others and our future generations. We can consume to be prepared, but we have to be prepared to create.

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Leadership Lessons from Jesus

One of the biggest drawbacks about the world that we live in is the fact that we are bereft of any good leaders. Every now and then, in each generation we have certain gifted people that emerge with great promise to redefine the human march to progress. They leave behind a great deal of teachings and values that the successors look up to and imbibe, till the next big idea emerges. One of the leaders that redefined the way we live even today is Jesus. The spiritual leader of billions of Christians worldwide, it is believed that thousands of years ago, he was born into a poor carpenter’s family. Being a member of a royal lineage of Jews, he was instrumental in propagating a new message of inclusiveness and salvation. The Jews under the cruel colonial oppression rejected and assassinated him because they couldn’t believe that he was the promised Messiah from their scriptures and lore. However it is believed that he was risen on third day in accordance with the scriptures and after spending weeks with his disciples he was taken into heaven. His followers known as disciples, aided by the extensive shipping lines and roads built by the Roman Empire, took his message to the ends of the world. Within a few centuries, the entire world followed the teaching of Jesus Christ and became known as Christians.

How did Jesus succeed so well? His message of inclusiveness, forgiveness, salvation, hope and grace might have been powerful and revolutionary for the people of those times. However how did this movement grow so huge and wide and became so relevant, even today? I believe there lies the answer that any successful leader needs to learn and understand.

Based on my observations over the years and based on my notes, a leader is one who needs to be at peace with God, himself, the nature and everyone around him. He needs to have the following qualities:

1. He needs to have the faith in God and himself to weather storms and if needed, walk on water.
2. Personal good should never be factored in the equation. He should empower and live for others.
3. He has to clearly communicate the following:

  • Vision.
  • What are you doing?
  • Why are you doing?
  • How are you doing?
  • Clarity of how they align with the vision.
  • Execute, learn and continuous improvement.

4. He needs to be concise, focused, creative and gracious.
5. He needs to have a team of doers, delegate and hold them accountable to deliver the vision.

If you look at the life of Jesus, one can find Jesus after being anointed by John, he:

  • First built a team of doers: fishermen, tax collectors etc. he chose them because they were not elite, but because they were doers.
  • He had a purpose, plan in place and he was a good communicator through his parables and sermons.
  • He tenaciously built his team, delegated works to them and held them accountable by the power of Holy Spirit,

I would like to conclude by one simple statement:

Leadership is vision, communication, teamwork, execution and continuous improvement.