Why predictable stories win?

Couple of weeks back I just binged watched Squid Games on Netflix. I am sure many of you have watched the show by now. Whenever I login onto Netflix, Squid Games is always trending. 

What is so different about Squid Games that makes it so engaging? How some people always get their storytelling equation right?

Isn’t Squid Games one of the most predictable shows out there?

You know what is going to happen from day 1, don’t you?

Who is going to win all that money and in what sequence people are going to die, we know it all.

But Squid Games doesn’t seem loose the grip on their audience ever.

Then what is working so well for Squid Games?

Well, it is not “what” is going to happen but “how” it is going to happen that matters.

We always wish to see how it is going to happen, how things are going to unfold.

Some character is going to die for sure, but how?

Someone is going to cheat, but how?

All stories are predictable. And Netflix has got the equation right.

Humans look forward for predictable plots. We love to see reruns. We love when heroes win and villains eat the dust. Predictability is the safest bet that producers take. 

Ok, apart from all that, there was one thing that has worked really well for Squid Games; high stakes

When the stakes are high, as high as life and death and obscene amount of money involved, the plot is usually foolproof. 

Money Heist worked on that principle.

I sometimes wonder why Bollywood/ Indian producers aren’t able to get the equation right. 

I don’t think Indian origin shows trend so much in other nations.

And the answer that comes to my mind is simple, they blatantly copy the “what” and also shamelessly copy the “how”. They play it too safe. Low risks, low returns. 🙂

Please leave your thoughts

Toxic Culture in Edtech

Toxic culture in Edtech. We don’t need to name any organization but I am sure you have come across many posts articles and videos that speak volumes about the toxic culture.

What is toxic culture? 

Toxicity at workplace is characterised by set of nasty behaviours that don’t contribute to psychological safety, security and overall mental and physical wellbeing. 

What are these nasty behaviours? 

Disrespect, unnecessary workaholism, unhealthy politics, unhealthy recurring conflicts, etc. The list is endless but this should suffice for the sake of argument.

How we define behaviours?

Behaviours are natural/deliberate responses to situations/stimulus. Behaviour simply means how you chose to react to the happenings around you.

With that foundational knowledge let us try to understand what is happening in Edtech.

Edtech organisations are nothing but sales organizations. They have a tech core, software engineers who build the platform and educators who use that platform. And then there is an army of sales people who aggressively push the product/service to the masses.

At any given time sales employees outnumber the core employees by a ratio of 1:5 (for every one core employee, there are 5 sales employees, I am using conservative numbers, the ratio could be much higher)

Which makes any typical company in Edtech as a sales organization. The product/service is highly scalable so much so that for a 10x growth you might need only 2x core employee rise but a 5x rise in sales force. 

Now just imagine, what kind of environment/situation a typical B2C sales employee faces in his/her routine?

Uncertain, dynamic, stressful, targets that always remain elusive, stretch goals, exhausting. These are all situations.

Then what are the resulting behaviours? 

We have already discussed that. 🙂 

So I believe it is not surprising that culture in most Edtech companies in characterised by toxicity. Only difference is that this toxicity is being reported more often. 

Should we deduce that all sales organization are toxic? I don’t think so. It depends on the environment they function in.

OYO, Oracle , Insurance companies can be termed as sales organization because they have a small core and large sales functions.

Are they toxic? Do tell me in the comment section.

Shared Psychosis and Religions

Shared psychosis is a phenomenon wherein a group of individuals share a delusional belief or an absurd alternate reality. For instance, if you and your folks believe that the moon will crash onto the earth on December 31, 2025 and erase all life, that is a delusional belief. It is absurd but a small group of people has developed a strong shared belief around it. And perhaps there could be a reason for this shared belief best known to them.

Recently, I watched a documentary on Netflix that narrated a disturbing event. In 2018, a family of 11 committed mass suicide by hanging themselves. To cut the long story short, among the dead was a 45 year old man who influenced everyone to die along with him. But the seeds for this event were planted in 2007 when the psychologically disturbed man started writing notes on how the family should behave. He was seen as the family leader and a patriarchal guiding light. The notes were elaborate and dictated each member of the family to behave in a certain way, follow routines and mannerisms. It was a cult practice. What was more shocking was the consistency with which the notes were written. One note-book per year was written. Everyone lived by the book and kept it a family secret. Even the kids followed the doctrine diligently. The date and process for the mass suicides were also dictated as per the book.

Now let us look at religions. Without naming any religion, don’t you think every religion is somewhat a shared belief. We call it a shared belief and not shared psychosis because religions are seen from the lens of divine idealism. Millions of people follow it, most follow it blindly and few consciously. Obedience is virtue. Thousands of years back the seeds for the hundreds of religions and cults were probably sown through shared psychosis. Absurd but surreal beliefs of one single individual that percolated across a small group.

Few religions reached an inflection point where they could gather the followership of masses. These religions succeeded because the ideas and philosophy transcended beyond the individual who incepted those. Apparently those ideas were sustainable and to a degree conducive for human sanity long after the founder passed away. Inflection points for young religion or cult practices happens when the greater good and wellbeing of followers supersedes the vested interest of the founder. In the case of the mass suicide mentioned earlier, this inflection point manifested in form of death.

Managing Customer Experience is really a rocket science

I love to visit Crossword. It is a ritual I perform every time I visit a mall. Usually, these stores are quiet, peaceful and urge you to spend time with books you never care to read. But a few days back, it was a different story.

Two staff members were having a heated conversation. The mediator was their store manager who was quietly listening.

It was early in the day, around 11:30 am.

It was not a big store but clearly understaffed given its size.

I could hear the heated conversation from the extreme corner of the store.

By every minute it was getting louder. They were speaking in Marathi.

My wife gestured, let us move as I was trying to find a good book for her.

Whatever I could overhear was the following:

“I don’t take lunch breaks, she goes for lunch breaks and takes her own sweet time to return. 

She doesn’t even file the bills. I am working here for 8 years, I have never seen such nuisance created by a new employee.”

We left the store. I didn’t even feel bad. I am not even a loyal customer of #Crossword. I appreciate them for their physical presence and always prefer to buy books on Kindle. Or buy physical copies from Amazon. Thanks to the huge price differential. Do I deserve a good experience at a Crossword? maybe not. 

Maybe it was the post-pandemic noise as things are coming back to normal. The discussion could be dismissed as two employees voicing out their concerns over KRAs, work hygiene, etc. 

We then headed towards Decathlon for a specific need; compression socks for distance running.

I love their large stores. Employees were busy arranging merchandise. 

“You need compression socks? You will get them near the billing counter on the left” said a 20 something enthusiastic executive.

Once we reached there, he came and explained the nomenclature and the size details. 

Unfortunately, my wife couldn’t get her size which she ordered online later but I got mine. 

After a few minutes, he met us again at a different counter and asked if there is anything else we need.

Are we comparing the two experiences? Not really, it will be foolish to do so.

But I believe managing customer experience is very difficult. It is a deliberate art, well thought of the top levels and equally well executed on the floor. 

Trivia: Decathalon hires employees who are passionate about sports. They are hired as sports leaders and manage the related merchandise.

#customerexperience#perspective#management#hiring#culture

Taliban version 2.0 : How they are different?

How can everyone quietly observe the Taliban overthrowing the Afghanistan Government?

How can the US quietly withdraw its troops and diplomats?

How can China declare friendly support to the Taliban?

What are we missing here?

It is the Taliban version 2.0

It took 20 years for version 2.0 to be released

Has the Taliban changed its ideology?

Are they more civilized now?

Not really.

Did the Taliban win the hearts of Afghans?

They don’t have to.

Then what has changed?

Taliban learned the Art of Diplomacy.

It took two decades in the making.

You must listen to Taliban Spokesperson Suhail Shaheen.

He speaks of policy, reforms, and non-violence.

Do we need to believe him or the Taliban for that matter?

Not really.

However, what they have earned the hard way is “The Benefit of Doubt”

Somewhere there is a hope that the Sharia law will work in Afghanistan.

That benefit of the doubt was enough to throw the world into a standstill, a spiral of inaction and indecisiveness.

Afghanistan is no longer as strategic as it was in the 70s and the Taliban is not really perceived as a terrorist organization by outsiders.

It is seen as an organized army of 75000 that has taken city after city without major conflicts.

The world forgets, we have a short memory.

The ability to organize, plan, and ability to communicate that plan to the world is a skill in itself that the Taliban has built over the years.

Back in 2001, they didn’t have it.

All they could think was Hijack a couple of planes and ram them into the twin towers.

It is a wait-and-watch game as to how the Global powers will play this out.

But there is a reason Afghanistan is called the graveyard of empires, it has not failed to live by that sobriquet.

#organization#diplomacy#politics

Do you celebrate outcomes or processes?

A few days back there was a meme that went viral. It goes like this:

Who we are? 

Indians

What do we want?

Medals

What do we want our child to be?

Engineers or Doctors

We need glorious outcomes but we are not ready to pursue the appropriate means to achieve those outcomes.

Moreover, we celebrate outcomes to death. However, we don’t celebrate the processes, behaviors, and efforts that eventually lead to those outcomes.

So many organizations have declared millions, cars, and gifts for those who won the Olympic medals but how many have really invested in the processes or infrastructure that will enable us to win more medals in future events?

The outcome is rewarded but the effort is not. Efforts are the details that we wish to conveniently drop from the plot.

Let us borrow a page from Bollywood, shall we?

Bollywood takes every opportunity to reinforce an outcome-driven mentality.

I recall Dhadkan, starring Shilpa Shetty, Sunil Shetty, and Akshay Kumar.

Ok, I regret watching this movie, had to watch it while traveling (typical Volvo bus movies).

But I recall one scene so distinctly for obvious reasons.

When Sunil Shetty confronts Shilpa and declares that “when you left me, I didn’t even have 50 paise in my pocket, but now I have 500 Crores”

The audience is left bereft of the details as to how Sunil made this possible. Bollywood just doesn’t bother to explain.

But that’s Bollywood for you in a nutshell. Had it been a Hollywood or European movie, Sunil’s rags-to-riches story would deserve a sub-plot.

Likewise, we are still bereft of the details and know-how of what it takes to achieve excellence as Neeraj Chopra did. 

Those details seldom surface. 

We want documentaries that narrate the hardships and challenges and not prime-time news feed that only glorifies.

Let us also celebrate the infrastructure, processes and standards, and efforts of those who might enable sustained excellence in the future.

Finding your weaknesses

What are your weaknesses? 

When asked in interviews, we all have a couple of well-fabricated weaknesses up our sleeve.

Serves the purpose. 

But what are our real weaknesses? And why most of us are not able to clearly articulate them?

Here is the answer: Our weaknesses are deeply buried under our strengths.

Oftentimes we use our strengths to such an extent that our weaknesses always remain hidden from us.

These weaknesses also remain hidden from others.

We “overuse” our strengths to hide our weaknesses.

Here is a common example.

I bet you must have experienced a heated argument with your close ones, friends, or colleagues.

If you always try to win such arguments by being logical and critical then it is more likely that you are unable to have a deeply emotional and empathetic dialogue. 

Note that “Always” is the keyword here. 

If you “always” address conflict by being passive and quiet then you are underusing assertion as a skill.

If you happen to play a Table Tennis match with me, you will notice that 80% of the time I use my backhand.

I am an average player, never took any formal coaching. 

But the backhand is so hardwired since my college days that I am just unable to play simple forehand shots.

I tend to overcompensate the lack of forehand technique by creative and strong backhand action.

I could easily improve my game by 30-40% if I work on my forehand but sadly I don’t.

Table tennis is a sport, your weaknesses could be spotted in plain sight.

Unfortunately, life isn’t.

Strengths are often coping mechanisms for our shortcomings.

Behavioural shortcomings are difficult to identify.

But with some reflection, you could identify them.

Just spot a strength that you tend to overuse and ask why am I doing that?

#strength#weaknesses#behavioralscience#selfawareness

Normalization of Death

Manali Memes are all over the internet. You see hordes of people on the busy streets of Manali.

For the uninitiated, Manali is an famous hill station in North India. Currently it is in news because hordes of people are visiting the place after the lift of second lockdown. These tourists don’t really follow Covid protocols and put their lives at risk. This is a sign that an 3rd Covid wave in India is imminent. The second wave has proven fatal to millions.

Given the above scenario, the rational mind questions such behavior of people . Why are people even risking their lives?

If you reflect, this could be a direct consequence of the normalization of death.

Let me explain.

Death has been normalized in religious scriptures.

Mythology says you live and then you die.

However, acceptance of loss has never been easy.

Death is a rarity, you only die once.

Death is a rarity because in your lifetime you could only closely witness a few deaths.

You mourn and revive. You accept and move on. It is an organic process.

Death in that case is an event. Obviously a sad one.

Now let us have a look at the havoc unleashed by the pandemic.

The pandemic has claimed millions.

During this period, death was seen through the “mechanized lens”.

The sad event was reduced to mere operations.

Haste, quick, mechanized.

Book beds, allocate breathing devices, manage supply chain, optimize beds.

Prioritize the sick, decide who doesn’t need the bed and who does. 

Manage logistics for the deceased. Waiting lists and resource allocation.

Bottle-necks and workstations (pyres)

Does this ring a bell?

The scene was no different from the Auschwitz concentration camp.

If death is normalized then we might not really appreciate the longevity of life but the “shortness” of it.

A trip to Manali in that case is just a bet on life, now that it has lost some of its value.

It is okay to live grand and short life taking all the risks because it is okay to die as well. 🙂

The aftermath of the pandemic has significantly reduced the fear of death?

Do let me know in the comments.

#covid19india#death#life#wayoflife#fears

How do you feel when someone disagrees with you?

How do you feel when someone disagrees with you?

A few days back, I commented on an Instagram post.

The post had thousands of likes. The creator was a woman with more than 50000 followers.

She stated that “fitness” is subjective. It was her belief.

I usually don’t comment on Instagram posts. But that day I felt like doing so.

I said, “Fitness is objective, the world is moving in that direction. If fitness is subjective, no one is really fit.”

It was my worldview and belief.

“100% untrue”, came the reply. 

She went on to explain at length why she believes so. 

Now I had a choice, to leave the debate or push my point further.

I decided to push it a little further. This time with some more logic.

I said “if fitness is subjective, then why fitness tests for jobs, any gym, or sports are so objective? There are series of checkboxes. Hence, fitness is nothing but a checklist, hence objective”

I received no reply after that. 

The next morning, I received a notification. She had again written a long reply. Now she brought logic and scenarios that were confusing or simply beyond my comprehension. 

I decided to yield for two reasons.

The opponent was actually trying too hard to be right and win.

Reason two, it was her turf, with all the zillion followers, it was a hornet’s nest.

Here are few reflections:

The true test of your character will happen when someone disagrees with your beliefs and opinions and how you react after that.

Are you big enough to accommodate a thought, an idea, or a principle that directly counters yours?

Anyway, on LinkedIn such confrontations are rare.

LinkedIn is the world of “I agree”

We all live in harmony here, don’t we? 🙂

The three crucial competencies (pick any two)

These days everyone wishes to retire early. People in their 20s wish to retire in their 30s and people who are in their 30s wish to retire in their 40s.

Here are some of the common approaches that are all over the internet:

1. Generate passive income somehow through a side hustle
2. Invest consciously in risky instruments and keep on doing so till the returns match your expected income
3. Create content and monetize it
4. Create courses and sell them
5. Coach/ develop others
6. Influencing/ endorse products

How this is possible?

1. Internet: it allows you to act as an individual unit and connect with millions 
2. Platforms: LinkedIn, Instagram, WhatsApp, Zoom, YouTube
3. Tech: Mobile, Laptops, Accessories 

How people in their 20s wish to retire in their 30s?

1. Create kickass content that goes viral
2. Invest in Bitcoin (or other risky instruments) and hope that Cryptocurrency rules the world in their 30s
3. Create organizations, processes, and systems that disrupt

How people in their 30s wish to retire in their 40s?

1. Use the skills they developed in their 20s and teach-back/coach
2. Invest in equity/SIP/small case(or relatively less risky instruments)
3. Build businesses that offer sustainable returns in the 40s
4. Invest in disruptive businesses (eg Tesla)

What people in their 20s might lack?

Focus/attention span, the value of perseverance, and patience

What people in their 30s might lack?

Exponential Mindset

Two broad themes emerge here:

1. Create/curate content and distribute it to the masses
2. Channelize your funds towards businesses/technologies that are promising 
(Pick one)

Three competencies that will make you win at this age:

1. Learning agility 
2. Financial Acumen
3. Creativity
(Pick any two)

Leave comments. 🙂

#learning#skills#career#finance#content