Monday, January 29, 2018

Miss you Andu!

I had just joined B.Tech at JNTU Anantapur. We were just settling into the rooms in the Lepakshi hostel. A group of seniors arrived. They asked us for my bio. I told my name and bio. Then senior remarked - That Ching Chung's name is same as your name and his branch is same as yours. I was surprised who is Ching Chung. After doing some friendly ragging for some time, the seniors left. Our hostel had a tree in the yard where all of us would gather to discuss. I went there to relive our ragging experience. And there I found out who Ching Chung was. It was my own classmate Anand Seshadri aka Andu. He was named so because of his fairness, and his hairstyle. He almost looked like a Chinese. The first thing anyone would notice about Andu was his smile. He always had a smile on his face. He had a hearty chuckle and a great sense of humor. If you spoke with him for a few minutes, you would surely forget all your worries and smile.

Anand, Vamshi and I used to sit in the last bench in the left corner of our first year classroom discussing about our childhood and previous college experiences and we became good friends.

In the second year of college,  I didn't stay in the hostel, but in a community hostel in the town. Andu also didn't stay in the hostel but he and some of his friends rented a room in front of the college. I had great time during the evenings when I used to hangout in his room discussing technologies, movies and books. As in first year, we used to sit in the same bench and somebody or the other would crack jokes and we would be caught laughing during the class. The lecturers were so vexed with us that and we became the talk of the staff room. They would say especially Andu and Ananth shouldn't sit at one place. Sujatha madam had made us sit in separate benches so that we wont create nuisance in the class.

During the third year, I came back to college hostel. Andu also moved back to the hostel. Andu, Vamsi, Viswa, Pavan and I and a few others stayed in the same room. We had so much fun in the room talking about everything under the sun that we had difficulty falling asleep and then going to the class the next day. Andu was a food lover and he would wax eloquent about the various dishes he liked. He bought a computer and that became our room computer. Great.. now more time spent watching movies and music videos. I was not a video game player but Andu was an avid player. and I fondly remember the time I spent watching him play NFS Underground and the music still rings in my ears. In the third year he took me to Shaastra in IIT Chennai and it was one of my most memorable experience. He had friends there, so we had no problem with accommodation or food. I am very thankful to him for this. We sat in sessions, took quizzes, had food in the canteens, collected lot of goodies from various companies. I remember the session we had about Chandrayaan before it was launched from the scientists involved in its development. We sat in one lecture about String Theory. And we watched a movie the Open Air Theater also. The whole experience is something I never forget and very inspirational.
  We also had the college trip to Ooty and us three musketeers sat in the first seat playing the songs and movies for the whole group. He also introduced us to tamil music. He liked the actress sneha and that introduced all our room to the song -enna thavam seithani from Pathiban kanuvu which is something that always reminds me of Andu.

Another unforgettable experience was when we went for paper presentation to NITK Surathkal. Surathkal was a beautiful place and we were mesmerized by the beauty of the college and surroundings. Here I have one incident which showed me he was as ambitious as he was fun-loving. Two groups of people went to NITK from our class. Anand and I were one group. Our paper we had to presnt was about neural network based fuzzy control system. I was elated about that and was fooling away my time with the other group. Andu came to me and took me to our room to practice the presentation. So split the part we had to speak into two and gave me one part and he took the other. We practiced our parts and he did great. But I was not really into that practicing and I was having fun. He chided me and told me we have this narrow window where we can speak and that we had very little time for practice. I heeded that warning and we practiced for some more time. We really had a picture perfect presentation and not only that we also won the second prize for the presentation. This is one incident that showed me the ambitious and inspring Andu.

In the final year of college we had campus recruitments and Andu was very sad that he didn't a get placed in the first company IBM. He worked hard and got selected to the second company CTS which I was also selected to . Again in the company we also had a great time discussing what we were learning and what the future held. I was learning new programming languages and having a good time in the company but he was not satisfied. He wanted to quit. That was unthinkable to me. He wrote GATE and then he quit. He worked hard to get into a good masters program. He went to IISc Bangalore to do reasearch on Nanotechnology. Again that showed his courageous side and I was very inspired. I'm sure he would have gone to do great things if not for the intestinal cancer that attacked him. He bravely fought it but in the end couldn't win.

He would be celebrating his 33 birthday yesterday. Though he is not here, the moments I spent with him are always there in my heart making me happy & sad. He is there inspiring me and motivating me to have the courage to challenge myself and do something great!
Andu - you were ambitious, brave, friendly, cheerful and a very dear friend. I sorely miss you.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Great ideas from Amazon and Jeff Bezos

Amazon is one of the companies that really inspires me. The story of how they started with books and built multiple moats is amazing. Bezos has the led the company very well. Their leadership principles are really good and a guide to being a leader.

Customer Obsession
Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.
Leaders are owners. They think long term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say “that’s not my job".
Invent and Simplify
Leaders expect and require innovation and invention from their teams and always find ways to simplify. They are externally aware, look for new ideas from everywhere, and are not limited by “not invented here". As we do new things, we accept that we may be misunderstood for long periods of time.
Are Right, A Lot
Leaders are right a lot. They have strong judgment and good instincts. They seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs.
Learn and Be Curious
Leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves. They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them.
Hire and Develop the Best
Leaders raise the performance bar with every hire and promotion. They recognize exceptional talent, and willingly move them throughout the organization. Leaders develop leaders and take seriously their role in coaching others. We work on behalf of our people to invent mechanisms for development like Career Choice.
Insist on the Highest Standards
Leaders have relentlessly high standards - many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and driving their teams to deliver high quality products, services and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed so they stay fixed.
Think Big
Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers.
Bias for Action
Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.
Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency and invention. There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size or fixed expense.
Earn Trust
Leaders listen attentively, speak candidly, and treat others respectfully. They are vocally self-critical, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing. Leaders do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume. They benchmark themselves and their teams against the best.
Dive Deep
Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, audit frequently, and are skeptical when metrics and anecdote differ. No task is beneath them.
Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit
Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.
Deliver Results
Leaders focus on the key inputs for their business and deliver them with the right quality and in a timely fashion. Despite setbacks, they rise to the occasion and never settle.
Another good gem I learnt from reading about amazon is the type 1 and type 2 decsions.
Type 1 are important strategic decisions that are difficult to change
Type 2 are decisions which are easily reversible.
Spend more time on type 1 decisions and on type 2 decisions either delegate them or make quick decisions, act on them and revisit them.

Another important thing is to things to minimize regrets. That is why Bezos started amazon - he didn't want to be regretting missing working on the internet at 80 years old.
I will keep updating this post with more gems from Amazon shareholder letters and interviews with Jeff Bezos.

Another one is disagree and commit

Senior executives are paid to take 1 or 2 impactful decisions everyday.

Express your idea clearly without the crutch of powerpoint (6 page memos in Amazon)

Monday, January 15, 2018

Really Bright Lines

I was able to make a chain this week. And what helped me do that - really bright lines. Let me explain. It is easy to do something 100% of the time than 90%.  It shortcuts a decision loop - the brain doesn't have to work to decide whether to do something or not. The answer is always clear. This added clarity saves a lot of energy and time - and more than that, it makes it very easy to follow through. 

And this is how I was able to make the chain. Simple rule - No internet before 5 PM. No exclusions and no exceptions. Though I made this decision lot times, I always let some loop holes in - like watching news for five minutes was OK. It was OK if I'm not working etc. And this left a really simple path to get hijacked as the dopamine inducing articles would suck me in and leaving me totally emaciated to do any worthwhile work. This time I didn't leave any such loophole.

And so there I was - feeling the passing of time, feeling like a luxurious person - I had a lot of time in my day. Things were happening peacefully - nothing was feeling rushed. Things were taking as much time as they needed. And that helped me to finally make a chain. As I always have the energy to do the things I should do and any distracting thought has to wait till 5 PM to become real! 

So this is my advice to anyone who is struggling to follow through a decision they made - make whatever you decided really bright - no gray lines. Do something 100% of the time. Make the decision automatic. Decide when you're at your peak state and then resolve that what you have decided is done. Make starting the thing you want to do so easy that it should be easier to start it than to decide to not to do it and get away from it. The less energy you want to spend starting it the more successful  you will be. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

Mind your environment

Last week we have seen how we can make lasting progress by going slow and steady. I've tried to follow the rules I've laid out but still the progress was hit or miss. So I tried to diagnose what was the reason for that. I've made time for my work and made the work enjoyable, but still I couldn't really make a chain. The reason I realized was because of the environment.

Though I made time for doing the work, I didn't make sure the environment is conducive for that work. Especially just going on the internet was sure to make distract me from my work and take me to alternative places from where I couldn't return back to work.

So I decided to rework on creating an environment that supports the work I'm going to do. I created a bright line rule of no internet when doing work that doesn't need it - NOT EVEN ONCE. That is because it is easy to do something 100% of the time than 90% of the time. If I make an exception once, it will be easy to justify to myself to make another etc and soon I will be away from my work.

So for any thing you want to do, think through what is essential for that work and try to have them ready. Now decide what is not necessary for that work and make sure you put those things away completely. Next make sure you are in a place where there will be no interruptions to the work you're doing.

It seems that - make/mind your environment - is extra important among the rules for slow and steady progress. So have fun making/minding your environment and see how your progress becomes steadier

Monday, January 1, 2018

Slow and Steady

Everyone might have heard the story of the hare and tortoise. The story goes like this - A hare and a tortoise have a race. Hare starts fast initially and after going a certain distance, looks back and sees tortoise way behind. So it decides to take a break and rest. Meanwhile the tortoise starts slowly and steadily walks to the finish line. By the time the hare wakes up the tortoise is almost at the finish line and you can expect that tortoise wins the race while hare tries to catch up.

There is a profound truth here. It is not the fast one who wins but the person who is more steady who has the momentum. So what is your goal and how are you going to make sure you are making steady progress towards it ? These are some ways that I found helpful.

1. Make time: The best way to make steady progress is to schedule specific time for the work. Daily is better but if doesn't work any recurring time is best.
2. Make a chain: Make a big X mark on the date you've really done the work. And don't allow the chain to break.
3. Never miss twice: Inevitably in life, some time will come when you haven broken the chain. Don't despair and don't let that stop you. The trick is to start as soon as possible and at the next scheduled date. The rule should be that you never miss it twice. During my childhood, my guru told me this in telugu - ద్వితీయ విఘ్నము పనికిరాదు . i.e Second interruption is not good. I didn't realize the importance of that then - I was thinking what if we miss the second time, we could start it on the third day. But it has now been abundantly clear that the activation energy to start it on the third day is much higher and it is easier to just quit but restarting it on the second day is so much easier. So mind the second interruptions.
4. Make your environment. Design your environment to support the task you're working on. Minimize the interruptions to the work and make sure it is easier to do the task than doing something else. So turn off notifications and if possible break the internet and just focus on the task at hand.
5. Enjoy the work. This is something I've noticed recently. When there is a rush to complete a task, it can look like a chore instead of something that I enjoy. So instead of making a mad dash on every task, I try to go slow and really try to appreciate why I'm doing it and giving myself a chance to do a great job on it. This will also help in continuing the chain as I'm getting pleasure out of the job and the brain will get addicted to it.

Wish you a happy, productive and guilt free new year 2018. May you reach all your goals slowly and steadily. I've enjoyed writing this blog post and will continue my slow and steady progress by making a X every monday on this blog!