The trap of being the listener

A couple of years back, during the peak of Covid, I got a call from a college friend. He hadn’t called me in years. The initial 2 minutes were spent checking on how we are keeping safe and when the pandemic is going to end after all. For the next 30 minutes or so, there is this monologue. He is a talker, I ended up listening to his career progression, office politics, and his opinions of other colleagues who are not doing so well. 

When the call finished, I was amazed that he never asked about my routine, my close ones, and my pursuits. Even I did not care to share, because there was no room in the conversation to do that.

A few weeks back, he called again. The same pattern continued. This time I exactly knew how the conversation will unfold. Some facts were repeated but overall the plot remained the same. I mostly heard him this time and did not spend my energy listening.

The constant need to overly express oneself, without being a listener in the conversation is nothing new. We find such people everywhere. They occupy 90% of the bandwidth in the conversation. 

Jordan Peterson, a Canadian Psychologist mentions in his book- 12 more rules for life that people organize their brains with conversation. They lose their minds if they don’t have anyone to tell their story to.

The constant nagging of your boss might give a good structure to their reality. The repeated stories you might hear from your colleagues constantly try to organize their thoughts and feel good about them.

But what about you?

So monologues do a great job of energizing those who conduct them. It helps them, and that’s why some people pay for therapy. There is a premium attached to listening because it is a service. 

But what about those who listen? 

Did you experience this?

There is a part in the marathon where you walk

This was me in my first half-marathon in June 2022. Though I am smiling in the pic, that’s because runners care more about their appearance in the marathons. They pay for the pics.

Under that smile, there is a slight disappointment. I could have done a little better but never mind, it was my first. And given my habit to derive some wisdom from setbacks, I started reflecting on the outcome. That’s me, can’t help it. 

A couple of weeks back I read somewhere that there is a part in the marathon where you walk. Not a universal truth, but in hindsight, it makes sense. 

It was 26th June, and at around 12km, I became aware of the fact that this is not going as planned. Thanks to humidity and the hills. My wife with whom I prepared for the marathon had already taken a 1km lead. 

Things started getting tough after 15km. The 17-19km stretch was a 300m elevation. I had to walk. Even if my brain was pushing me to run, I could hear my heartbeat thumping in my ears. 170bpm, on the watch. I could see other runners walking too. 

When you complete 80% of the distance, the runners around you are very much like you in terms of fitness and willpower. The whole cluster around you behaves exactly like you. Maybe it is their first, they are uncertain, walking seems inappropriate when you have actually signed-up for running!!

It is funny because, at such moments, quotes like “ You are the average of the 5 people you surround yourself with” become more relevant than ever. Except in this situation, it was not by choice. 

Anyway, life is like a marathon. There will be a stretch where you have to walk. Sprints will burn you out. If you don’t walk, you might not survive and achieve your long-term goals. Walking might seem inappropriate but have you walk. 

Just take it slow on the elevations, save your energy and do your best when the road gets better. 

When I met my wife at the finish line, I asked her whether she walked that stretch, and she replied “Yes, I had to” it was crazy! Everyone was walking!


Attention is a limited resource, use it carefully

Attention is a limited resource, use it carefully. 

If you are reading this, I have grabbed your attention for a few seconds.

If not, you would have spent your attention watching or reading something else.

If data is the new oil, attention is your spending power or currency.

Every day you wake up with a fixed unit of attention.

You might spend this on Instagram, LinkedIn, reading emails, responding to emails, YouTube. 

You may listen to music or podcast. Or listening to someone in a meeting.

Anyway, the point is attention is limited.

When you consume your daily quota, you may realize that you are not able to be mindful. 

You might struggle to focus, show your presence while talking to someone, or struggle to comprehend a situation.

Are there any measures to control this?

In a world where everyone is hungry for your attention, there is limited we can do.

Being mindful that attention is limited could be the first step.


How do you perceive your problems?

A couple of months back, my password-protected door lock started giving issues. When I closed the door, the electronic mechanism just beeped and said “it’s intercepted” instead of the comforting “It’s locked”.

The best I could do to fix this problem was to change the batteries. But no luck. I assumed this complex mechanism has some deep issues pertaining to its software, circuitry, or mechanical linkages that rotate the lever with the help of battery power.

Nevertheless, the door lock remained functional. We could use the key to enter instead of the password. We got used to the “it’s intercepted” voice every time we latched the door.

All this while I dismissed my wife’s request to get the door fixed by calling the support. I began to procrastinate on the repair. In my mind, the problem was too big. First, it will need an expert. Two, the diagnostics will certainly demand a replacement and three the costs for doing this will be prohibitive. Who will explain the issue to the house owner who resides in New York? will he even agree to replace the lock? or do I have to bear the whole expenses?

On the other hand, security was paramount. We live in a safe gated society but the other day we were shocked to realize that our maid could simply walk into the house. Since the doorbell was off, she tried knocking on the door and finally just pressed the door lever and walked in.

We were no longer safe. “It’s intercepted” meant the door lock wasn’t doing its job.

It was an alarm to wake up and ask for support. A few more days passed. We longer relied on the locking system. We simply used the manual door latch.

Today we finally called the support. We raised a ticket and a technician was sent to us. I explained the problem. He quickly checked the batteries and pointed out that one of the batteries had leaked after getting fully discharged. The chemicals have entered the circuit and caused issues. He quickly dismantled the lock, sat down on the floor, sprayed some liquid, thoroughly cleaned the parts, and assembled them. This was done in 5 mins.

He told me, “If it works, you are lucky”.

He closed the door and I heard the comforting “it’s locked” after a long time.

He just advised me to change the batteries frequently and don’t let them drain.

I did not pay a penny, the ticket was closed, and he left.

I learned a big lesson. The bigger the problem in your head, the greater will be your tendency to procrastinate.

Most of the problems in your life need one small action step. A call, booking an appointment, writing an email, raising a ticket. Just take that step.

Don’t wish to plan? pay premium

Let me explain. We usually have a breakfast routine on all 7 days of the week. When I say usually, there is always that odd day when we really don’t have a plan or raw material or will or combination of all three to fix a healthy breakfast.

When this happens, we are left with three options:

-Skip breakfast, just have tea/coffee 

-Fix something quick and not so healthy (toast, butter, jam, Nutella)

-Order or go out 

The first two options impacted us later in the day. I get hungry during work, lack of focus followed by a craving to munch snacks till I have a satiating lunch. 

The second option cost us 3-4 times more money. Drive all the way to the breakfast joint, eat something tasty, consume junk calories, and head back home.

All options are easy choices but cost us a premium. Additional decision making, more money, junk calories, and a big compromise on something healthy. 

Lack of planning demands a premium.

New city, new place? You have not planned where to eat? You might end up at a substandard random eatery that might serve bad food or simply charge you more. 

Booking a flight on a whim? Pay 3 times more.

Forgot to renew your passport? Need it urgently now that you have to travel? Pay a premium

The more unplanned life you live, the more premium it will demand from you.

Living life on a whim is what rich people do because they pay a high premium to get rid of planning and decision-making.

Most of us can’t afford that. 

Why the iPad doesn’t have a calculator?

Apple iPad doesn’t have a calculator. 

iMac, iPhone, and Apple watch all have stock calculator apps.

There is a story behind this.

Back in 2010, Apple was only weeks away from launching the iPad.

A guy name Scott Forstall was leading iPad software development. 

The iPad calculator meant for the launch was just a scaled-up version of the iPhone calculator

Just a month before the launch, when Steve Jobs saw this design and right away called Scott.

“Where is the new design for the calculator? This looks awful!!, said Steve

Scott replied, what new design? we are shipping this design 

Steve said, No, pull it. We can’t ship that. Redesign the calculator or ship the iPad without it.

With only a few days left for the launch, Apple decided to launch the iPad without the calculator.

The rest is history. 

iPad users have to rely on third-party calculators. 

In an interview, one of the top executives of Apple reasoned that 

“We want to do it when we want to do it really really well”

Great to see #appleinc lives by that value.

But isn’t it #counterintuitive?

Do it well or don’t do it at all?

Please leave comments.


Lovely Youtube Ads

These days I end up watching the full ads that YouTube makes me go through.

I watch them even when there is a skip option.

Reason? They are so creative !

We hardly consume ads on television these day, thanks to the OTT platforms like Netflix.

But I tend to get hooked to YouTube ads.

Creators of these ads have no pressure of time limit.

Some ads are even 2 minute long.

Some are so meaningful.

Some are so fresh and novel.

These ads just beat the content created by individual YouTubers.

Come to think of it, it is content vs content.

Reminds me of the 90s and 2000s where some ads aired during primetime just don’t fade away.

Obviously ads shows on YouTube don’t intend to have that top of the mind effect but they are more tuned towards call to action.

Do they even have a big budget? I don’t think so.

Just high quality, medium-low budget targeted advertising.

Makes so much sense.

What do you think?


The Onslaught of Credit Card Calls

The onslaught of credit card calls. I am sure you are facing it every day.

It is relentless. Imagine in 2021, a human voice is cheaper to hire than a robocall.

In India, you could pay some youth Rs 500-1000/day and make him or her do hundreds of calls.

I wonder what could be the conversion ratio here?

Is it even efficient? 

The system never learns, unlike some algorithm that might target a different set of potential customers.

Duplication of data. The same bank might call you four times a week.

I don’t think the inefficiency is because of a lack of automation, India provides software automation solutions to the world.

The inefficiency is because of the easy availability of cheap resources.

A human resource willing to call 100 people a day is more economical than the pursuit for selling financial products through creative marketing and advertising or automated calls.

Sometimes I feel the developing world is slower towards progress because we want to preserve jobs and create more jobs.


The Rise and Fall of Pods

The rise and fall of pods.

What are pods?

Pods are users that boost your posts on LinkedIn or any other social media for that matter.

Pods will incessantly like and engage on your posts, without even reading them.

When you return the favor you also become a pod.


A few months back LinkedIn was super hot.

Organic reach plummeted.

The #LinkedIn algorithm couldn’t keep up with the spiked activity.

Then I observed the real rise of pods.

Pods boost your post until the algorithm detects it and boosts it further.

Well, the trick was neat.

Unless you are Ankur Warikoo or Simon Sinek for that matter, how are you going to influence without that thought leadership or content that really rocks?

And the answer was reciprocation principle, one of Robert Cialdini’s six principles of influencing.

You scratch my back and I will scratch yours.

It makes sense, but on LinkedIn, it becomes labour intensive.

A few weeks back I noticed that the activity has receded.

The regular pods are nowhere on the scene, some new pods took their place.

I suppose the reciprocation principle is not so sustainable.

Especially when it comes to incessantly engage on content that you even don’t care to read.

What do you think?

Have you come across a pod?

Would you love to be a pod?

Would you like me to be your pod?

Creativity is a process

Week 10 of writing daily

People often ask me how do I keep the ideation engine going

I won’t say it is easy, but there is a process

If you follow my posts you will notice that I write on a range of topics, right from business models to personal anecdotes

Someday I might write about NASA’s vision and Netflix’s policies

And then completely move on to Bollywood or LinkedIn’s organic reach

I know that is crazy, but that is my colorful canvas

Keeps me going, as long as you are curious you won’t be out of ideas

That answers the first part

Talking about the process, trust me it is boring

But this process is more crucial than the ideation engine

I just capture my thoughts on the Notes App

I don’t let them die a slow death in my brain

I build an inventory of ideas, only 60-70% make it through the first cut

Out of those roughly 20% are always work in progress, they never see the light of the day

Out of two interesting concepts that I think, one comes alive

That is a good success rate I would say

To summarize

Be curious and keep your mind open, don’t be too deliberate because that won’t work in the long run.

Follow a process to publish consistently, I know that is boring but you have to do it 🙂

Follow #alokwrites