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Personality types, Societal musings

Introverted Interrogation

How does one introvert talk to another introverted acquaintance? (Although the exact words may not have been spoken, the below conversation did actually take place)

Neel: How has work been?

Adrian: It’s been fine; it’s taught me a lot about power and politics. I was naïve in college and am now learning to play the ropes.

Neel: Seems like it’s not such a great culture. How do you like NYC?

Adrian: I love it..not so much my junior summer cause I was working a lot, but I really like it now. This city never fails to delight.

(Adrian thinking in her head: I’m talking too much; I want to listen to what he has to say. *Feels self-conscious doing most of the talking*)

Neel: Are you still working a lot?

Adrian: Hmm, not quite. My first 6 months to one year I was, but not anymore. (*Now feeling highly uncomfortable taking up all the spotlight*) she quickly adds: I want to hear updates on your startup!

Neel: Yeah, you know, it’s been great in the last 6-9 months. We are now serving to 2 dozen clients and have expanded a lot. The team is currently 5 people and we are looking to make 6 additional hires. So it’s been going well.

Adrian: Wow, that’s so exciting! What does the team of 5 look like?

Neel: All engineers and now looking for more sales people.

Adrian: And what level are you looking to hire at?

Neel: Umm 2-8 years out of school…so are you still in touch with your college friends?

Adrian: Yeah, it’s gone down a bit, and there are some that I meet mostly only at big parties, but for sure. Hbu?

Neel: It’s funny — MBA’s went from being extremely social in school to very work focused…so what have you been doing for fun?

Adrian: Mostly reading, gym, hanging out with friends and exploring the city. Nothing out of the ordinary! Do you get time off given that you are working on your own Company?

Neel: It’s been busy, but my schedule is more flexible which I love.

Adrian: Yeah, I bet! (*responds with a tint of envy given the trappings of her corporate life*)

Neel: Are you in touch with anyone from our Public speaking class?

Adrian: Hmm, not really. You?

Neel: I met someone last year, but that’s a distant memory.

Adrian: Right, such a good class, not just to learn public speaking but also the deep stories we shared. How did you initially hear about the class?

……..

And so the conversation goes. What may seem striking to an extrovert is how there are so many questions asked and it almost seems like an interrogation as opposed to rambles and stories that extroverts like to jump into. Introverts have very deep conversations with their close friends, but when 2 introverted acquaintances meet up, it could almost feel like the 2 are interviewing each other (of course I’m generalizing!). The answers are short with few or likely no tangential stories since no one likes to grab the limelight. Each person ends up asking tons of questions to give the other time to speak.

An extrovert would probably fall asleep while listening to this seemingly mundane conversation, but to an introvert, this type of slow diving into someone else’s life is more comfortable. In an attempt to form deeper connections, the questions slowly progress to family life, decision making, ideas, and the crux of the matter. For example, Adrian asked Neel about his marriage, his decision making around hiring etc. Although Neel may have had fleshed out answers in his head, he kept them terse in order to not hoard all the speaking time.

Moreover, a lot of times it is harder for introverts to articulate their thought processes into words. Given the age of entertainment and branding we live in, introverts can appear to be uncharismatic as they fail to charm the audience with mesmerizing tales. I wonder if introverted startup founders get less venture capital money given that storytelling may not come naturally to them. (In reference to this last sentence, I’m merely postulating and have no real data.)

Time for some myth busting: While introverts are often conflated with being shy, this presumption is based on false ground. The most important characteristic distinguishing introverts and extroverts is the degree to which they can take in external stimulation. For more on this, I strongly recommend Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.

If you are an extrovert who cannot fathom the idea of reading quietly by himself / herself (merely a lighthearted jab with no intention to offend), you can watch Susan Cain’s TED Talk!

………

What can the 2 personality types learn from each other when approaching a casual conversation?

Extroverts should understand that introverts prefer to listen which is why they ask questions; it’s not meant to be an interview. But they should also learn to ask questions to the introverted acquaintance, otherwise no introvert will speak about themselves. Instead of surface-level conversation, trying digging deeper into their lives.

Introverts should try to not make the conversation like an interview or jump right into more personal matters because that could be uninviting to the extroverts. If the extrovert does not ask them questions, they should learn to talk about themselves too in an effort to mutually share information and form a stable relationship. To begin with, keep the conversation casual and perhaps even prepare a few stories to recount.

That’s all the serious talk I have for you, folks. Now let’s get back to talking about the weather!

……..

P.S. Full disclosure that I consider myself an introvert and may be biased with regard to some of my thinking on this subject. I would love to hear your thoughts on this matter; please drop me a note or comment if you have stories to share. Introverts – make your stories entertaining, ok? 🙂

Recommended Book: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Recommended Video: The Power of Introverts

Recommended Article: The Real Reason Introverts Dread Small Talk

Self-reliance

Rise in motivational gurus

When there is an emptiness or lack of meaning in one’s life, the emotional part of the brain inevitably turns on. At this juncture in our lives, we look for groups or individuals that will give us a sense of security or instill in us some confidence. Given how emotional we are at this time, we could often be incorrect in our assessment of the gurus we seek for guidance. We tend to gravitate towards anyone who may make us feel better emotionally, or to those who may appear to be more confident and upbeat than us. Such people can very often be charlatans and benefit at the expense of our emotionally turbulent animal brains.
“We use the word “guru” because “charlatan” is too long to fit into a headline”
                                                                                                           — Peter Drucker
We need to understand that troubled times make us feel helpless and bring back our tractable child brains. When we were kids, we would rush to our parents and teachers for support every time we were bullied or upset. For the most part, these mentors wanted the best for us. As we grow older, we are either no longer sheltered by the love we received from our parents or their advice may not be that valuable to us anymore. Hence, we seek out our own gurus. The death of religion has given rise to a large number of self-help gurus offering people advice. But are we picking the right mentors? And is it possible that we can delude ourselves into feeling better after listening to these motivational speeches, but never really bring about any actual change?
We live in rapidly changing times and there is a general sense of confusion in the air. Some people are worried about technology taking away their livelihood and no one really understands the direction in which the world is headed. These times have seen an extraordinary rise in motivational gurus claiming to change our mindset and give us a sense of direction and purpose in life. A lot of these gurus have no track record to show and are merely good at toying with our emotions. Everyone claims to want to help, but the truth is that this sort of help is transient and a crutch for solving the real problems we are facing.
Moreover, social media and the proliferation of entertainment often present a false picture of humanity. Our tendency to live in the virtual world is degrading our ability to judge a persons true character. We are being swayed by rah-rah motivational speeches that may be far from reality.  Watching a motivational speech may be healing for our emotions in the short term but the problems will come back to haunt us almost immediately after. Taking the time to figure out our insecurities, fears and desires will be extremely helpful in the long run.
Look, I am by no means saying don’t seek help or therapy if you need it. I’m saying that 1) don’t rely on motivational speeches too much 2) learn to seek the right masters for help. Get off your phones and begin your journey of assessing and observing people’s true character. Look at their past accomplishments and cut through the noise in their speeches. Always be wary of people who avow to alter your life or bring you all the confidence you need. It doesn’t work that way and so much of the support has to be intrinsic.
With the rise in AI, it’s a possibility that a lot of our jobs may be taken away. Our sense of emptiness will be at all-time highs and we will see more motivational gurus spring up who will give us a false sense of security.
Prepare yourself for this future. Become self-reliant. Learn to assess people. And learn to re-invest yourself and let go of the past. Otherwise, the past will suck you in while the future marches on.
paradox

Productivity Paradox

I happily embraced the surprising fall weather on the fifth day of this month as I stepped out of my house without any stockings. My morning entailed reading the last chapter of Hiking with Nietzsche, entitled “Become Who You Are.” As I began my hike towards my workplace, my thoughts naturally gravitated towards what it means to “just be” and to embrace existence. Why is it that Buddha’s philosophies keep making that eternal return? Or should we call them eternal constant?

As I trudged down the street, I habitually pulled out my phone to listen to a podcast. But my thoughts wandered to Cal Newport’s ideas on solitude and I knew I wasn’t listening to Ezra Klein’s serious conversation with Ralph Nader. Perhaps listening to a lighter conversation would help and so I switched to another podcast.

After less than 2 minutes, I yanked my earphones out of my ears, took my hands out of my jacket pocket and just decided to walk a confident steady stride. I observed almost every person I crossed, my mind trying to decipher their thoughts in that 5 second glance. I can count on one hand the number of people who were not staring at their phone screens or plugged in. And I passed by a lot of people as I walked across one of the busiest roads and busiest times of the day in the Big Apple. It was 8:40am in Midtown during office rush.

Even the ones who were not plugged in or having a moment with their phones seemed frazzled and anxious. Two people from that entire walk made eye contact with me and even those were momentary awkward glances.

With a serene grave expression on my face, I observed and walked in my happy pace. I was not trying to be “productive” for 20 minutes of my walking. And yet, this walk will make me more productive for 6 hours.

Beaming at the security guard, I entered the towering 9 West office building and stepped into the elevator with four others. Three were on their phones. One looked terribly anxious and another feigned a confident expression. There was one other woman who did not pull out her phone and I could sense that her thoughts echoed mine (at least a bit) as she watched the others. However, she too gave into moments of weakness. Not knowing what to do, she stared at the slowly ticking floor numbers as the elevator did not match China’s high-speed ones, and twirled her hair while looking into elevator mirror. Don’t we all love admiring ourselves?

I stepped out of the elevator to step in within myself.

Recommended book: Hiking with Nietzsche: On Becoming Who You Are by John Kaag

Recommended article: https://www.gq.com/story/cal-newport-digital-minimalism 

 

Mental Models

On Thinking

My previous post ended by asking you to pick up the book A Brave New World because “It will make you think.” However, it seems like the act of thinking itself may be dying.

“How do you get time to think?” A good friend of mine asked me this question a few nights ago after I rattled off some of my thoughts on the use of technology, social media and short attention spans. His question made me revisit Aldous Huxley’s genius 1930’s creation where Huxley predicted the future. He wrote about reading and thinking becoming alien concepts in the future. That future is now the present.

Constantly disturbed by our smartphones, we have eroded our abilities to focus deeply and pay attention. Hard problems take time and patience to solve and we cannot be reflective analytic problem solvers in this culture of distraction. We are so attached to our screens that we fail to observe the world around us. A flourishing society that can come together and solve the most important problems of the world is reliant on deep work, empathy and human connections. These are slowly degrading and we must make an effort to revive it.

I’m not saying that I am the deepest thinker or have great self-control when it comes to the use of technology. However, I am making a conscious effort to improve on these fronts. In that respect, here are some small actions that help me think more and focus better:

  1. Create habits and routines so you don’t have to exert too much mental power into planning your day and your mind can be free to wander
  2. Work in chunks and blocks of time and do not multi-task
  3. Do not check your phone while working. Better still, keep it away from you
  4. Reduce time on social media
  5. Actively carve out time to think. Go on walks
  6. Meditate (still working on this one)
  7. Be observant

The hope is that we can be clear thinkers in this world full of noise.

Recommended book: Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

Recommended blog post: Mental Models and Thinking Better by Shane Parrish

If you have any suggestions to share or want to talk about this, I would love to hear your thoughts / critiques – so please drop me a note.

 

Mental Models

Soma in a Brave New World

When one of your favorite authors mentions a book that influenced his / her thinking, you have to pick it up to understand the root source behind the books that impacted you. A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley is one of the books that influenced Yuval Noah Harrari, bestselling author of Sapiens and Homo Deus.

Even though I finished reading this 1930’s dystopian novel about a month ago and have been mulling over in my thoughts about the book, I haven’t quite been sure of how to express them in writing. But here is an attempt at it.

One particular word from the book stuck with me; it’s called Soma.

The book describes a New World into the future where almost everyone is happy. There are no blood relationships, only sex. People just work the amount they have to based on the “status” they were assigned at the time of birth. Babies are conditioned in test-tubes at the time of birth and that defines their lives. There is no concept of the American Dream. Everyone lives a happy and content life. And if for some reason, something upsets you, there is an easy fix and that is Soma. Soma is a happy drug. It’s a pill that you just pop in and you become satisfied again.

“Now – such is progress – no leisure from pleasure, not a moment to sit down and think.” And if ever by some unlucky chance your happy state of mind is distracted, “there is always soma, delicious soma, half a gramme for a half-holiday, a gramme for a weekend, two grammes for a trip to the gorgeous East…”

The concept of Soma really disturbed me, and I immediately started thinking about analogies to Soma in today’s world. Does alcohol serve the purpose of Soma for many of us? Is juul the new Soma? And, what’s the next quick-fix drug we are going to use because we can’t confront our unhappy / confused state of mind? Have a lot of us also forgotten how to think because we are constantly distracted by social media, the next great vacation to plan and long hours at work?

I tried to argue with myself that Soma could also be the simple pleasures of life such as enjoying a good meal with a loved one, exercising, reading, or even some good wine and beer with old friends. Aren’t those happiness pills too? If so, there may be nothing wrong with Soma.

But then I realized that Aldous Huxley is referring to Soma as a drug that intentionally blocks our ability to think clearly and gives us a false sense of happiness when we are under the influence of that drug. The point being that a lot of us are afraid to confront our discontented state of mind and so we look towards Soma to make us feel “happy” and forget our worries. But it’s unlikely that you will find true happiness unless you are willing to confront your struggles. It’s not about finding quick and easy solutions. It’s about facing those challenges and coming out stronger. It’s about enjoying the roller-coaster ride (ups and downs) of life.

Are we presently living in this Brave New World that Aldous Huxley conceived of more than 80 years ago? Pick up the book. It will make you think.

Recommended Book: A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Mental Models

Ikigai: Purpose in Action

I visited Japan after graduation and like Tim Urban (one of my favorite bloggers), I too failed to figure it out. Even though I stayed with a local friend in Japan for a few days and traveled alone, which forced me to interact with the local people, I found it very difficult to even begin to understand the Japanese culture. Nonetheless, I fell in love with the place (despite only being able to eat white rice on a vegetarian diet) and I came back and started reading some of their very thought-provoking philosophies. I’ll begin with Ikigai.

Ikigai is a concept to improve work and life. It’s about finding happiness in everyday life, such that the sum of small joys adds up to a more meaningful life. It is essentially the convergence of four primary elements:

  1. What you love (your passion)
  2. What the world needs (your mission)
  3. What you are good at (your vocation)
  4. What you can get paid for (your profession)

ikigai

Of course not everyone has figured out what these four elements even mean for us (I’m still on the journey), but it’s a great lens and framework to use. It’s about “Purpose in Action.” Find your purpose. Take action.

If you have discovered your Ikigai or are still exploring like me, I would love to hear your stories – drop me a note! Till then, enjoy these pictures of my friends and me at a teenage photo studio in Tokyo!

 

Recommended article: http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20170807-ikigai-a-japanese-concept-to-improve-work-and-life

More to come on Ikigai once I’ve read the book: Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Hector Garcia

Mental Models

Jeff Bezos on Long-Term Thinking

Jeff Bezos is currently the richest man on Earth. In hindsight, it’s easy to think that Amazon was bound to be a success with the boom in technology and internet. However, the Amazon story is quite remarkable and Bezos went through his fair share of struggles before this giant empire got established. After the initial madness and motto of “Get Big Fast”, Bezos decided to deploy a “Get the House in Order” philosophy and never shied away from thinking longer-term. He knew that great businesses fail because they are reluctant to embrace promising new markets that might undermine their traditional businesses and that do not appear to satisfy their short-term growth requirements. So, Bezos always kept an eye on the future and thus the Kindle and Amazon Web Services (the fastest growing and the most profitable segment) were born.

One of my most favorite Jeff theories is “the regret minimization framework”, which he came up with when he was switching from his lucrative job at D.E. Shaw to potentially starting Amazon.

“When you are in the thick of things, you can get confused by small stuff. I knew when I was eighty that I would never, for example, think about why I walked away from my 1994 Wall Street bonus right in the middle of the year at the worst possible time. That kind of thing just isn’t something you worry about when you’re eighty years old. At the same time, I knew that I might sincerely regret not having participated in this thing called the Internet that I thought was going to be a revolutionizing event. When I thought about it that way, it was incredibly easy to make the decision.” – Jeff Bezos

Bezos’ point is that when you start thinking about the longer-term consequences, the small everyday confusions begin to disappear.

Even in the worst of times, Bezos did not give up this attitude. During the dot-com bubble burst, Amazon stock dropped from $57 to $33, shedding almost half its value. Bezos scrawled “I am not my stock price” on the whiteboard in his office and instructed everyone to ignore the mounting pessimism. “You don’t feel thirty percent smarter when the stock goes up by thirty percent so when the stock goes down you shouldn’t feel thirty percent dumber,” he said at an all-hands meeting. He quoted Ben Graham, “In the short term, the stock market is a voting machine. In the long run, it’s a weighing machine that measures a company’s true value. If Amazon stayed focused on the customer, the company would be fine.”

I’ll end with some of Jeff Bezos’ main tenets:

  1. Customer obsession
  2. Be patient
  3. Invent your way out of boxes
  4. Invent your way into the future
  5. Operational excellence so you can find defects at the root and fix them

Recommended book: The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone

Recommended Podcast: The Investors Podcast: Learning from Jeff Bezos