The enormous value of note taking in being successful

His darkness sharpened the contours of his light. Wrote Rory Smith for The New York Times on Maradona. And I thought, I should write it down in my notes. I belong to an age that even if you are not a football follower, knowing Maradona was a given. The images of his blinding bright success stories and in equally sharp contrast, his bloated pictures and drug stories, always sat together in the memories. So when I read the line, ‘his darkness sharpened the contours of his light,’ I felt the urge to write it down. Not for Maradona. But for my own reflection. The line defined my memories. It also led to something more . A shadow gives the contour of the light. To think not from the angle of the light, but from the side of the shadow, is a new thought. Somebody seeing the glass half empty should remember, that the emptiness drives more attention to the full part.

A line in an obituary evokes a chain of thoughts. And, these thoughts from ‘darkness- contours-light’ to ‘emptiness-embodies-full’ creates a lattice of mental models. Simply put, this is how the mind builds and stores ideas and deploys a framework of connected dots when needed. They come in the form of ideas, concepts, thoughts and not necessarily as words as written in the notes.  

A few years ago I was attending a design and creativity conference. The event had speakers from a wide variety of areas like sound design to art projections to technology. What was startling for me was to look around people sitting in that design conference. If you have attended one, you don’t look at the faces, you try to peep into their notebook. Varieties of doodle. Get friendly and they will share some more pages. With the change of speaker, I had changed my seat. New set of doodlers as my neighbors. That’s an ultimate power that some people have, the ability to draw their thoughts in shapes. In most other situations people take notes on their phones or in diaries. Scribbles. Bullets. Mind maps. Very few as doodles. All shapes and sizes of notes. 

Taking notes as a student, in an academic environment is a chore. Taking notes as a working adult is a learning necessity. You see heightened activity of note taking in events and conferences as these are time bound appointments for learning. But what makes a remarkable difference is when you develop the habit of note taking, as part of your learning ladder. Especially taking notes as you read. It helps you retain the knowledge better, which further helps your mind build interconnected mental maps or models.

There are several styles of taking notes. Cornell note taking system is one. You can write with pen on paper or you can do on apps on your devices. Two or three years ago, I  started taking notes on small, visiting card sizes, paper where I scribble down what I like. I picked up the style from Ryan Holiday. If you search on how and what to take notes, you will find elaborate details on how to write a summary after each chapter or just highlight in the book. Some people put the two sleeves in first while wearing a t-shirt and some people put the neck in first while wearing the t-shirt. It doesn’t matter how you take notes. Writing and reviewing those notes later is what that matters. 

You can write a word, a phrase, a full paragraph. You can write from a business leader or a sports personality. You can write inspirational quotes or concepts, you can copy behavioural insights or just ideas. You can write about anything that you like when you read. Eventually, it all comes together in your mind like a web of knowledge. Here, in today’s column on Habits for Thinking I am sharing some of my notes. It will give you an idea on what to write. Below each example is an account on how it connects with our thinking. 

  1. A WORD

Thrum:  meaning -a continuous rhythmic sound.  

In such a culture, we should not be surprised that deep work struggles to compete against the shiny thrum of tweets, likes, tagged photos, walls, posts for no other reason than that they exist.”

Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

Vocabulary expands our world. A good communication skill makes  a confident person. 

  1. A PHRASE: 

Strategy is just long term tactics.”  

Viswanathan Anand in his book, Mind Master.

Catchy phrases stay in our mind and shape our thoughts and actions. I have written about Risk hai toh Ishq hai here. 


“I am actively irresponsible.” 

-Nobel Laureate Physicist Feynman used this sentence on his productivity style to avoid any administrative work in the department. He chose not to take any administrative position that could take away time from his work. 

Sometimes we take up responsibilities which makes us look and feel good but may be harmful to our productivity or the way we spend time. Learning to say a ‘no’ is an art too. 

“Improve is a truth that nags at them than an old ache. How small does that gain have to be? Wrote the Olympic Champion rower Steven Redgrove, “virtually imperceptible as long as it was a gain.”

Written by Rohit Brijnath, a sports columnist in Mint Lounge in January 2019. He wrote in the context of goal settings done by athletes and sports personalities. For top performers, improvement is very little, but they still strive to become a better version of their own, no matter how small that difference is.  

To improve is a sign of a growth mindset. Sometimes, believing in perfection may inhibit change and growth. It happens to products and services and ideas. Staying true to improvement keeps the product evolving. 


“Nike picks a side in America’s culture war. It is doing something more novel and calculated than other multinationals that have weighed in on immigration, gun control or race: It did not stumble into this controversy; it sought it.” 

Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson, Financial Times, September 2018

“It did not stumble into this controversy, it sought it.” This is the sentence that reveals Nike’s strategy to rope in Colin Kaepernick as their brand ambassador. Footballer Colin Kaepernick demonstrated protest by taking a knee during the National anthem before the start of the match. Nike, encouraged by studies showing that consumers reward brands for speaking up on divisive social issues, took the social issue as a brand strategy. 

Here is another note: 

Aditya Puri, ex MD, HDFC Bank spoke in an interview in 2019 about consumer initiatives that HDFC bank had taken. His philosophy included a few tenets: A financial experience, an omni channel experience, two clicks- shopping experience that is safe for both merchants and consumers and fully digitised bank. What he said at the 11th min of the interview

“Amazon gives four days of sale. Hamare paas aao na, teen mahine ka sale hai.” 

He says, come to HDFC Bank, we hold sale period for 3 months as against 4 days sale of Amazon. HDFC Bank through its apps and cards hosts a plethora of sale offers on products and services for a longer duration of time. A financial services business acts like a retailer to drive transactions.


“Had the children come from a more privileged background they would have perhaps panicked or felt dispirited because their sense of entitlement would have been offended.” 

A group of young boys got trapped in a cave for a few days. The above lines are from an article after they were rescued. ‘The sense of entitlement’ mentioned here refers to the fact that privilege can cause more harm than good especially in times of crisis. Many people have suffered setbacks as they have not been able to travel out of the country as their summer destinations, unable to handle their sense of entitlement.

“The right to free speech does not give us the right to shout fire in a crowded cinema; there was the risk of a fire and we might have let the spark by shouting about it.” 

Financial Times columnist on Lehman Brothers crisis in an article titled- “Sometimes in a crisis, you don’t tell the whole story.”

You do not have to be a columnist to understand the value of shouting fire to create panic but you will understand the comment and act wisely in a crisis situation. You will understand the value of how these unconnected notes form a web of knowledge and models in our thoughts. 

We learn from what we see, we read, we hear, we do. We learn everyday. Note taking helps in retaining what we learn. The lattice of knowledge fuels our success. 

Extraordinary work will make you see a new perspective

56 is not a number that sounds like an uphill target. Just Fifty Six. Not in millions, not in thousands and not even in hundreds. Her annual target was actually fifty or around twelve in three months. She achieved fifty six in three months, she has rescued and united fifty six minor children with their parents. All children aged between 11-14 years old. Meet Seema Dhaka, 33, a courageous Delhi police officer, one of the three heroes of our story today. 

Ms Dhaka has been awarded Asamanya Karya Puruskar (Extraordinary Work Award) and has earned an out-of-turn promotion at her workplace. For one of her challenging cases, Seema had crossed two flooded rivers in West Bengal to reach the place in search of the child. 

While Seema has crossed the rivers once, Relu Vasave, 27, rows 18 kms everyday to reach a hamlet where she doles out medicines and nutritional food to the tribe settlement. Relu, our second hero, has been doing this everyday, day after day, through the pandemic. She only stopped when the rivers were flooded and were overflowing for a few weeks. 

The third hero of this story, Pooja, a young lady who runs a milk store, does not cross a river or two, she crosses boundaries. Boundaries of doing business, boundaries of recruitment, boundaries of training, boundaries of cash flow. She crosses many boundaries. In this story, an advertisement for Facebook, the plot might be fictional but is not unreal. It is close to the reality. Like Seema Dhaka. Like Relu Vasave. The story exists. 

Pooja Didi, the hero of the story, hires jobless people for her milk products business. Electricians, plumbers, carpenters join her store. The story shows that even though she is strapped for cash, she is concerned about these people’s livelihood and stays hopeful. There is a turnaround when her own people narrate the story on Facebook and she generates business. 

“It is not easy to row every day. My hands ache by the time I’m back home in the evening. But that doesn’t worry me. It is important that the babies and expecting mothers eat nutritious food,” says Relu about her work. As an anganwadi worker, she has been serving a tribe. When the pandemic spread members of the tribe stopped coming to the village to collect their doses of medicine and nutrition. That is when Relu decided to row everyday to reach them and distribute medicines. Most of the days she rows alone, on some days her sister in law, another anganwadi worker joins her. 

Seema recalled one of the challenging operations, far away, in West Bengal, in an interview: “It was my husband’s birthday but the thought that my efforts could lead to a child being found kept me going.Not many trains were running that day. We managed to reach the village with the help of state police after crossing two rivers. The child was finally found. I took him to a hotel, fed him and made him watch TV and after which he narrated his ordeal.” 

While Pooja Didi’s story is a work of fiction and hits us beautifully because of the lovely video narrative, it is Seema Dhaka’s work of rescuing children or Relu Vasave’s work that is real, hard hitting and truly extraordinary. 

Seema Dhaka in Delhi, Relu Vasave in Maharashtra, Pooja Didi in online communities are people with a single common notion. Their work is worship and is driven by a force which cannot be powered just by monetary incentive. It is their ability to be empathetic. Their style  of work is purpose driven, the purpose of being empathetically dutiful. 

At large organisations, leaders work meticulously to define the purpose of the brand and the business. Managers and teams work on building the company’s culture aligned to the same purpose. The purpose becomes the compass for making decisions. Unilever’s purpose is to make sustainable living commonplace. The company follows its well defined purpose diligently. So do many other organisations. At these workplaces you get to see innovations sprouting to meet the purpose-driven goal, business processes walking the same path and customers experiencing the delight of the purpose. It is easy to be an employee of such a business and work with its framework of purpose. But what do you do when you do not have a business like that to guide your work? Or you do not have a purpose of your own? Or you wonder why you do what you do?

Your purpose is your compass. It prioritizes your choices. Relu Vasave may not be able to define her purpose in words, but her words about her commitment reflect her purpose. Being empathetic is shifting your perspective and looking at the world from the point of view of others. This is what fuels Relu’s boat. Her urge to make medicines and nutrition available to people without access, is her everyday fuel. When Seema Dhaka says, ‘my efforts could lead to a child being found kept me going’ you know her work is driven by compassion for the unknown. 

Your purpose is your ‘why’ and it connects what you do and how you do it. Purpose evolves over time and with changing careers. Staying true to the purpose of the moment enables decision making. It is absolutely ok to not have a well defined purpose for your work. But it helps to be mindful of how purpose enables you to perform significantly better at work. You can choose your purpose to be ‘empathy driven work.’

SHIFT, Simple Habits & Ideas for Forward Thinking, the course to develop critical thinking skills recommends aligning to the purpose as one of the fifteen habits. At Habits for Thinking, we learn by developing new mental models through people and events around us. We have picked up lessons from extraordinary people like MS Dhoni, Michael Phelps, Ruth Ginsberg etc and here, in today’s article, there are lessons from extraordinary work of ordinary life, the lessons from Asadharan Karya. 

To define your purpose as empathy driven work, it is essential to look at the following: 

  1. Purpose driven work helps you prioritise basic needs A company required a driver for a pregnant officer. The manager interviewed two drivers. The first one had worked with a taxi rental company and the other one had experience of driving school buses. When asked about their traits, the first one said, “I am very punctual, I have never reported late to work.” The school bus driver said, “I am very cautious about children’s safety. Sometimes they take time to get down the bus or they jump around in the bus.” The bus driver was hired. Empathy driven purpose must fulfill basic needs of the people involved. Safety is one such basic need. While Relu Vasave supplies food to her clients, Pooja Didi in the ad takes care of the needs of her own employees. 
  1. Purpose driven work helps you shift your perspective: You lean forward to understand your own people, your customers’ point of views. You step into their shoes, shift your perspectives and then take work decisions. You listen more, you make people feel heard and you shift your stance. 
  2. Purpose driven work helps you make choices: It was Seema Dhaka’s husband’s birthday but the thought of rescuing the child made her move towards work. You make several choices in a workday, your purpose guides you and shows you a path.

Purpose driven work creates a competitive advantage for businesses as well as people. To work with empathy is a powerful purpose. Adapt it. You will thank me one day. Actually, thank Seema Dhaka, Relu Vasave and Pooja Didis of the real world. 

असाधारण कार्य  👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾

Our 31,962 words journey on Habits for Thinking

My dear reader,

This week I was going to publish an article on nurturing our creative confidence. While I was toggling between open tabs on the screen, I chanced upon some stats from Habits for Thinking. 31,962 words, 30 articles. That is the amount of writing I have done and that is the amount of reading you have done on Habits for Thinking.

I feel it is important for me to take a pause and thank all of you for encouraging my work through your comments, likes and shares.

In this journey, your learning experience has enhanced mine too. So, thank you for being together on this path.

Wishing you and your loved ones a very Happy Diwali.

Stay safe, stay happy!



Your learning lessons from big, remarkable events

A twitter post circled as a forward on Whatsapp. It read, “Monisha Beta American Politics discuss karo. Yeh Bihar election is too middle class!!” (Darling, discuss American Politics, discussing Bihar elections is too middle class) 

To the middle class it makes no immediate difference whether it is the elections or the arrest of a noted media personality. These are just conversations on social media and in the hood.

But not paying any attention to big events is what keeps the middle class there, in the middle. And it is this burgeoning class that suffers in the battle of growth, be it political, social or economical. The only way out is to change how the middle class thinks, adapts a growth mindset, learns and stands out. If there is one thing that is common between Arnab Goswami and Donald Trump – then it is the use of media, creating an availability cascade and the use of this powerful tool on the middle, ordinary, most-times-gullible class. That is why it should matter. Because, the middle class is the pawn in the sacrificial game. 

This week, when I saw Arnab Goswami, the noted media personality, asking people around him to video record his own arrest, I realised how Arnab has trained himself to create eye catchy content. Even under the dark, cloudy moments like getting arrested, his instructions were clear. It is a negative example, but it is true that when the mind has been trained in a certain area, the mind performs well even when the going is tough. A positive example would be of Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan responding on video under Pakistan’s captivity.  Each of us consciously or subconsciously trains the mind and becomes expert in certain areas. Each of us has our own unique learning ladder. Each of us is capable of building, maintaining and growing our own learning curve. The only thing that is always common with these unique learning ladders is that at the opportune time, the training kicks in. 

Adaptive expertise and the learning ladder: 

The hunger to grow is compelling enough to attend courses. Many of us have done courses during this pandemic. Some of us have picked up new skills like podcasting, some have picked up cooking. Reading these articles has been a training too. Learning a skill, especially learning thinking skills is not just about learning the technical knowledge, but to learn how to connect the dots. The most famous example of connecting dots is that of Steve Jobs when he used his calligraphy lessons to design Apple products. The way you design your learning is the way it will help you in developing adaptive expertise– the expertise where you apply knowledge and skill from one field to the other.

What is your learning ladder? 

First and foremost, it is a ladder, not a circle or a loop, the ladder of learning. It is a never ending ladder that goes up and comes down too. Learning grows on learning. The more you learn, the more growth you experience. 

  1. Observe. The first step of the ladder for thinking skills is to observe. Observe your own thoughts, your own processes of work, your social neighbourhood. For instance, observe what were your thoughts around events happening this week. 
  1. Learn. The second step is to learn the concept or the skill. Events around us develop new mental models, whether we are consciously thinking about it or not. These mental models develop our thoughts. If we consciously learn the concept, it helps us develop a skill – the skill of holding two opposing points of view before arriving at our own decision. There are several ways that we learn new concepts or ideas, like by reading articles, by joining in conversations, by listening to debates and videos. As you learn, it helps to take notes. Writing a concept is a way of committing yourself to deeper understanding.
  1. Practice and assess: Richard Feynman, the brilliant physicist, suggested that the best way to know if you have learned something is to teach someone that concept. Nothing like sharing your new acquired thoughts and mental models with a colleague, friend or a community. The other way is to write a story around it.
  1. Go down: Move down on the ladder if you feel you have not completely understood the idea. Go back, learn, rephrase, explain and practice. This is the reason why it is referred to as a ladder, to go up and down to firm up the learning. 

Applying these learnings in real life: 

Application: We learnt about the concept ‘Availability Cascade’ in this article. Let us now build the learning ladder for the concept and events around us. 

  1. Observe:  Let us observe the event around us this week: the arrest of a renowned media personality. 
  2. Learn: The concept of availability cascade: Here is an excerpt from the book,Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman on the concept ‘availability cascade’ as defined by Cass Sunstein:

An availability cascade is a self sustaining chain of events, which may start from media reports of a relatively minor event and lead up to public manic and large scale government action. On some occasions a media story about a risk catches the attention of a segment of the public, which becomes aroused and worried. The emotional reaction becomes a story in itself. Prompting additional coverage in the media, which in turn produces greater concern and involvement. The issue becomes politically important because it is on everyone’s mind and the response of the political system is guided by the intensity of the public sentiment. The availability cascade has now reset priorities. Other risks, and other ways that resources could be applied for the public good, all have faded into the background. 

We make our mental models by reading. This is what a publication wrote about Indian media on the coverage of suicide case of Sushant Singh, thus confirming the concept of availability cascade: “The case has become an obsession that knocked India’s record-breaking coronavirus infections, China’s aggressions at the border and the worst quarterly economic recession since records began off the news agenda.”

A cascade was created by Arnab Goswami and it led to politically driven actions. The Guardian wrote on the arrest, ‘Most recently, Goswami had antagonised the Maharashtra state government, controlled by the Shiv Sena party, by accusing it of involvement in the death of the Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput, who killed himself in June. Shiv Sena is a former ally of the BJP, but the two parties are now bitter rivals. Goswami was accused of exploiting Rajput’s death in order to smear the BJP’s political rival in Maharashtra, as were other BJP supporters who pushed the narrative that Rajput was murdered, which has been proved unfounded.’ This statement reaffirms the political agenda. 

As your learning ladder helps you observe current events and understand with fresh mental models, you will react in a knowledgeable way. You will find yourself as an observer of political parties at play and your judgement will be measured. Your reaction on social media and in conversations will be measured. As you realise that this event has a negative impact, you will not add further to this cascade or succumb ignorantly. 

Typically the cascade is created to get a policy change, a shift in direction by using media and public’s attention. 

3. Practice: How does this learning apply in my life?  Mental models like availability cascade, nudge theory, communication skills etc. apply in everyone’s life. These help you bring clarity and develop your own critical thinking skills. For example, you will be able to spot a rise of an availability cascade at your workplace if you see an agenda being spoken by many departments. 

In a real incident, a resident of a building used the concept to change a simple movement- the dropoff point of residents by their drivers at the porch. She noticed that children played at the open space near the porch every evening, which was an accident prone area due to cars returning homes during evenings. She requested the managing committee to change the dropoff point from porch to parking lot during those hours. The request was ignored. She circulated a news story about a girl coming under a car to gain attention from both the committee and other residents. Eventually, a rule was made to not use the porch in the evenings when children played. A case of availability cascade where an information was used to persuade a change. 

Like ladders can be of stone or wood or concrete and of different shapes and designs, your ladder is unique to you. It doesn’t matter how you design it, what matters is how much you practice climbing up and down on it.  

Observe, Learn, Practice, Assess. 

Weddings, chaos and three must know principles of entropy

Fifty is the number of guests allowed in any wedding this year. Maybe a hundred people in the coming weeks. But as the wedding season approaches, one reminisces the beautiful chaos that most weddings bring. What is a wedding without that! The organised disorder. 

Last week on a trek, our guide shared interesting stories of weddings. His day job is to teach martial arts and serve in the central security team of big events. One such role was in the security cordon for Priyanka Chopra’s wedding. Naturally, we got talking on the subject. He told us the elite kind of chaos that can happen, where the number of security staff is double that of the number of guests, where the security team and guests have to sign a contract for photos and deal with the hotchpotch of sealing mobile phones in pouches so that they can only take phone calls but no pictures. A-list chaos. 

Weddings, big or small, have their own character of chaos. Some have disorders related to food, some for drinks, some have emotional sparks flying in the air and some have just the photographer turning too late. As people come together, the most organised ones also go through the cycle of chaos and disorder. Movies & TV series pick up this chaotic disorder as the backdrop to narrate the main stories. In Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, romance blossomed in a marriage setting, in another movie, Monsoon Wedding an old, childhood abuse came out in the narrative. Most marriage events are planned in detail and well in advance, yet they lead to disorder.  Sometimes, just an advertisement that tells a wedding story leads to the disorder, you know the Tanishq ad story. 

Disorder is best explained by Science. It is called entropy. Entropy in simple terms is the measure of disorder. More the disorder in a system, more the entropy. 

Rudolf Clausius, a physicist and mathematician studied entropy. He studied the conversion of heat into work and that heat naturally flows from higher temperature to a lower temperature. To do the reverse, to make something hot, one has to use an external source of power. He also observed that not all heat is converted into energy to do the work, some of it is lost in the process creating disorder. Entropy is the measure of this disorder. And, he has explained entropy in relation to the energy. He explained that the energy in the universe remains constant, but the entropy of the universe tends to increase.

Thermodynamics is the study of heat and energy. The second law of thermodynamics is more profound because it describes what the universe can do. The second law is our guide  about the disorder and inefficiency in the universe. 

“The second law of thermodynamics states that “as one goes forward in time, the net entropy (degree of disorder) of any isolated or closed system will always increase.”

It means, the entropy of the universe is increasing: that is, more and more energy becomes unavailable for conversion into work.

Today, let us understand the most inevitable thing that is entropy, the disorder and its role in our lives and in our business. 

Firstly, Entropy is the default state: 

Entropy in our lives:

Despite meticulous planning, wedding functions are made of visible disorders. Even relationships have a degree of entropy, the invisible ones. You don’t put any energy in it, lead a quiet life without any complaint or excitement and one day you will find the relationship to be dead. A complete disorder in the relationship. On the other hand, very strong relationships with an injury may end up broken if the injury is not worked upon. Clean rooms become dirty and if not cleaned become unlivable. Cars break, buildings fall, relationships wear out if the entropy or disorder increases beyond repair.  

Disorder or entropy is a default state. To bring in order, one has to be attentive and put in effort. It is like staying fit by eating right, exercising and sleeping well. Entropy is already there, the challenge is not to stop it but the challenge is to keep it under control and also sometimes use it to our advantage. Like in marriages, good disorders make memories. 

Secondly, Entropy tends to increase when the system is closed:

Entropy in our workplaces

Imagine hiring a team of twenty painters for the wedding to paint your house. You give them the house,cans of paint and leave them alone for a couple of months without any manager. When you return, you will find some have left the job, some are still there but have not done the work and the job is incomplete and messy. Remember the law that says, the entropy(read disorder) tends to increase when the system is isolated. 

Just as energy tends to move towards a more disordered state, in work philosophy the same thing happens. In a meeting room, if you put a team of people for discussions, there will be enough time spent after heated discussions and disorder will rise, if there is a lack of clarity on how to direct the discussion towards a goal. A sense of direction and goal orientation by the leader becomes a necessity to keep the entropy low during the discussions, read in an isolated situation. 

Likewise, a business needs to not only lead by goal orientation but also keeps entropy low by providing incentives, training, metrics for performance measurement etc to keep the business on track. If the workplace and its people remain isolated, the entropy will increase.   Any deviation from leading and training means dullness in performance and lack of revenue. That is what we have seen in case of work from home situations when businesses were grappling to adjust to the new environment. Without the necessary effort, businesses reach maximum entropy levels that leave them bankrupt. 

Thirdly, higher the entropy in a system, more energy you will need to be efficient.

Entropy in our business:

Businesses tend to thrive better when they work in an environment where the energy is efficiently used. Imagine the impact of noise when you draw your coffee mug to the floor in a room with few people against the sound it makes when you drop on a busy railway station. It goes unnoticed. So if the business is operating in a space where there is huge disorder, the energy spent will go unnoticed, like the missing sound on a railway station. 

The law of thermodynamics suggests that the energy is limited. To be efficient, it is pertinent for the business to find space where disorder is less. Innovative business offerings do well as they stand out in spaces of lower entropy.

Let me bring your attention to the Tanishq Ad. Based on a marriage story between two religions, the advertisement set some people to troll which added more disorder to the cultural entropy. But actually, that heat created by trolls, transformed into work and created more press coverage and social media interest for the ad. It is unlikely that the ad would have received such coverage and interest otherwise. What was a bad disorder in culture, turned out to be good energy for the business. 

Not all disorders are bad. Entropy can be used to one’s advantage. The rules are simple:

  1. Remember the entropy is the default state, keep it under control. 
  2. Entropy tends to increase when the system is closed or insulated. Intervene with energy like new learning. 
  3. Higher the entropy in a system, more the energy needed to be efficient. Since energy is a limited resource, innovative thinking helps businesses stand out. 

Successful entrepreneurs keep entropy in check. They value that entropy is the default state, hence they work with attention. They know that disorder will increase in a closed system, so they intervene through processes and people training. Most importantly, they are aware of their energy levels so they create innovations in their products and services to succeed.

Risks and Decisions – you need to know these lessons

I had picked up a line from a movie, Chance Pe Dance. It meant if you get an opportunity, make the most of it. In my marketing role then, about ten or more years ago, the line worked both as an anchor and a nudge. An anchor to spot opportunities (read chance) and a nudge to take action (read dance). I have no recollection of the scene, actors or the contexts, not even the movie name but I remember using it many times.My husband said Jhankaar Beats. All I remember is the line Chance Pe Dance. When I searched before writing this piece, I learnt that some other production company wanted to make a movie by this name Chance pe Dance and Jhankaar Beats team had legally objected to them for using it. It was popular, like the “Kitne Aadmi the” dialogue of Sholay1. Unmissable.   

Risk Hai Toh Ishq Hai (Take risks to live life/work to the fullest) from Harshad Mehta Scam 1992 evoked those memories. Powerful. Gabbar like. Unmissable. 

SCAM 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story is a web series based on the 1992 Indian stock market scam committed by stockbroker Harshad Mehta. The series is adapted from journalists Sucheta Dalal and Debashish Basu’s book The Scam: Who Won, Who Lost, Who Got Away.

Ab meri tarah risk se ishq hai toh kood pado, ya to duboge ya udoge. 

(Like me, if you love taking risks, then dive into the market – either you will sink or you will fly)

The web series packed with stellar performances and many nuances is so enthralling that it makes me like the character of Harshad Mehta. Forget abhor, I had to remind myself that he is the scamster and I should not empathise with him. What is there not to like about him – the character looks happy, confident, is a family man, has no vices, is sharp, intelligent and all this adds a swag to his looks. So when he delivers, “Mera Interview lene se pehle mujhe jaan lena, woh kya hai ki mujhe jaan jaoge toh maan joage” (before you take my interview, you should know about me because once you know me, you will get convinced) you actually believe in his statement, Risk Hai Toh Ishq Hai.  

Truly convincing. That is the impact of a great storytelling that makes one liners stay with you. You not only like such lines, you start using them and they become a part of your life. 

Risk hai toh Ishq Hai has its own swag, the swag of a confident decision making. And that is what we are going to talk about in today’s article on Habits for Thinking – the spotlight is on decision making. 

On an average day, we make several decisions, some miniscule, some insignificant, some mindless, some significant, some reversible and sometimes a few critical and irreversible decisions. It is the insignificant and small ones that dominate our time and energy and to some extent influence our significant decision making style. The famous story of Steve Jobs and now Mark Zuckerberg’s habit of wearing same colored T-shirts is to avoid everyday decisions of selecting clothes. Insignificant decision for them, very significant for others.    

When the character uses the line Risk Ishq… he portrays his style of decision making. He is confident. He knows there is risk. He is partially aware of the known risk and also acknowledges possibilities of unknown risks. Another layer of his style which is the most significant part of any decision making is that he doesn’t take too much time in making big, significant decisions. 

Decision making is a process that works on its own. While we do get trained in taking account of others’ opinions and facts, we need to understand and tell our minds to mind a few things before it takes decisions in #RiskHaiTohIshqHai style

  1. What you can control 
  2. Time is of essence
  3. The effect of Availability bias

1. Control – Circle of Competence:

When the world was investing in gold, Warren Buffet stuck to his portfolio. He follows and advises a principle of  Circle of Competence. In a letter to shareholders, he wrote: 

“Intelligent investing is not complex, though that is far from saying that it is easy.  What an investor needs is the ability to correctly evaluate selected businesses. Note that word “selected”: You don’t have to be an expert on every company, or even many. You only have to be able to evaluate companies within your circle of competence. The size of that circle is not very important; knowing its boundaries, however, is vital.”


As we gain experience and knowledge, we make our own mental maps of understanding. An expertise in fashion business doesn’t mean understanding of an oil business too. While making decisions, it is important to know the boundaries of that understanding. That is calculated risk. Beyond that boundary, even if you feel you know it all, you would be taking a bigger, unknown risk. 

2. Time is of essence:

Time is central to any decision making. Entrepreneurs understand this much better than others. Being perfect is not the priority, being in action with yet-to-be-improved services and products is the priority for entrepreneurs. You get slow in decision making and you may miss the bus. In the web series, the line demonstrates quick decision making.

I have written about Jeff Bezos’s style of decision making -’Disagree and commit’. His point is simple where he gives more importance to time than his own agreement. The project must move forward and not get stalled because of the leader’s nod. 

David Eisenhower, former US President used a matrix to help him prioritize his work and decision making. Called the Eisenhower Matrix, it can help you choose which ones you want to decide and which one you would like to delegate or address later. This gives importance and time to significant decision making.  

Some decisions are significant and irreversible. What you order for dinner is irreversible after you finish eating, but is not significant. What you say in a press conference is both significant and irreversible. It is important to spend time on these. 

3. The effect of availability bias:

What is Availability bias: All of us have the tendency to use information that comes to mind quickly and easily when making decisions about the future. Our memory is stronger of things that have vivid narration. This availability of our thoughts impacts our decision making.

Studies have shown that victims and near victims spend on insurance purchases and protective action after disasters. Another example is you tend to handover a new project to a team member who has a clean recent record and not to an equally competent member who committed a small error recently. This is something similar to recency bias in investing where one tends to take investment decisions based on recent memorable events.

Cass Sunstein, founder and director of the Program on Behavioural Economics and Public Policy at Harvard Law School has given a name to how the availability biases flow into policy- the availability cascade. Here is an excerpt from the book,Thinking, fast and slow, by Daniel Kahneman explaining the concept- availability cascade:

An availability cascade is a self sustaining chain of events, which may start from media reports of a relatively minor event and lead up to public manic and large scale government action. On some occasions a media story about a risk catches the attention of a segment of the public, which becomes aroused and worried. The emotional reaction becomes a story in itself. Prompting additional coverage in the media, which in turn produces greater concern and involvement. The issue becomes politically important because it is on everyone;s mind and the response of the political system is guided by the intensity of the public sentiment. The availability cascade has now reset priorities. Other risks, and other ways that resources could be applied for the public good, all have faded into the background. 

You will relate to these words and how the story unfolds through Sucheta Dalal, the journalist that went after the scam.That cascade led to a positive outcome. The recent availability cascade of an actor’s death, led to a negative impact for the public. The attention could have been on pandemic, economy and safety instead. 

As the lovely line stays with you, Risk Hai Toh Ishq Hai, do remember your own circle of competence, power of timely decisions and your alertness towards your own availability bias. Ultimately, Risk Hai Toh Ishq Hai. 

The credit for the line goes to dialogue writers for the series Vaibhav Vishal and Karan Vyas. Applause. 

Special Offer On The Grand Gesture – Your Free Superpower

Evening, the word evening- I was struggling to write this word a few years ago. Today, four years later, I am sitting and writing my weekly column, an entire barrage of words. 

I remember clearly, it was a bright, sunny afternoon, a week or so before Diwali in 2016 and I was working on my then to-do list and writing some notes. I struggled to spell the word ‘evening.’ I don’t have any memory of the context but I remember my baffled state of mind which wasn’t sure if it should be a ‘v’ or a ‘w’ in the ‘eve’ of evening. I had struggled and had given up on the fight of getting the word right. I had other battles to choose that week. This incident is of the time when I was running my entrepreneurial firm, RedPolka and I was in the thick of the workload of a fledgling startup trying to manage funds and to make Diwali better for everyone associated with the business. That temporary mind-fog had left a scar then. 

Today, I wouldn’t have remembered the word had it not been in an email I wrote to my children during that time. My children were small, so sometimes to capture a happy day memory or a funny story I would jot down a mail and send it to their email id I had opened in their name – mydearxxx and mydearyyy. Yesterday, we were reading some of those mails when I came across the above mentioned one. It read – “It was a last minute decision for me to stay back and not come with you for our Diwali break while my toothbrush went with you in your bags. I came back home from the airport holding my boarding pass.” That year, I had spent four days alone at home for the first time in my life during a Diwali break, away from family, away from work, away from any social life. Decision taken on a spur, it was a big step for me and my family. I had written in the email, “One day, I forgot how to spell the word ‘evening’ and realised I was saying things that I would regret later.. I was extremely fatigued. I had lost bandwidth to make the smallest decision like setting the dinner menu…” and the story goes on. The email was written to explain to them the importance of giving priority to oneself and the importance of being joyful, even if it required gestures like locking away from the world. 

Months later, I felt happy when I read about Bill Gates’s Think Weeks. Bill Gates spends a week in a cabin in a forest where he spends time with his books, thinking, reading, writing. Gates’ Think Weeks started in the 1980s; the first ones were quiet visits to his grandmother’s house. As they evolved, no visitors were allowed to the cabin during Gates’ Think Week other than someone who dropped off two meals a day at the cabin. Cal Newport in his book, Deep Work, calls these as Grand Gestures. And, ever since I took mine, even before knowing about Bill Gates Think week or Grand Gestures, I learnt the value of such acts and its impact on one’s thinking. And, Grand Gesture entered as one of the habits in the 15 Habits for forward thinking, SHIFT. 

So in this week’s article on Habits for Thinking, I am writing to you about not being alone but about creating opportunities of Grand Gestures to spark up the mundane routine. Grand Gestures that will bring magic in your life. 

With the beginning of festival season, hope is rising in the air even though it is burdened with pandemic reality. The blurriness of worries creates a layer of mind-fog. To be hopeful and happy in a situation where distance with friends and family is forced and the basic need of staying safe and healthy is uncertain, is a tough ask. Yet the only option is to stay hopeful. There is no second option. And to stay hopeful, one has to design hope. 

How do we design hope? By designing joy in our lives.

How do we design joy? Sometimes by taking small steps and sometimes by making grand gestures. 

We have discussed working harder in the days of darkness in this article, but today we go on the other side, where we grow selfish and plan and design joy in our lives. Not because all work and no play makes you a dull boy, but, because all work and play but no joy makes you a poor-hope boy. Here, we are not going to talk about what we do with our mind to attain joy, but actually about how to make our physical ambience become the trigger of our joys. We are not talking about think-weeks or solitude, but quite the opposite, gestures to be joyful and full of heart in the days of physical distancing. 

Designing Joy

Ingrid Fetell Lee in her book,Joyful, describes the surprising power of ordinary things to create extraordinary happiness. She talks about aesthetics – the properties that define the way an object looks and feels. If you have been to your workstation after a long gap this year, you would have noticed elements like a photograph or a note or an artefact that holds some memories and a whisker of joy. 

Ingrid, a design thinking expert, identified ten aesthetics of joy, each of which reveals a connection between the feeling of joy and the tangible qualities of the world around us. Like confetti which is related to aesthetics of abundance, similarly there are elements that evoke surprise, energy, magic, renewal, abundance, freedom, celebrations etc.

One story that stands out as a grand piece is about a house in Tokyo which is designed by architects, Arakawa and Gins to reverse ageing. It is called the Reverse Destiny site. Colorful, floor with sculpted bumps, layouts that are unusual, numerous fixtures from ceiling, the house is unique and brings you alive. She writes: “This definitely took some getting used to, and as I moved around the apartment, I was constantly adjusting my balance. In so many ways, big and small, the apartment disrupted my equilibrium, and challenged my ideas of what a home should feel like. By stimulating and destabilizing our senses, their hope was to wake us up to our bodies. In a way, their goal was to use architecture to promote a kind of mindfulness, and also a bodyfulness too, a word that if it doesn’t exist, probably should.”

Image courtesy: Reverse Destiny, from Aesthetics of Joy

As our life seems more static than growing, designing joy purposefully will bring in energy. Designing joy in small things is nice but grand activities will stimulate mind and body in a similar way as the Reverse Destiny home does. What can be grand for me, may not be grand for you. The idea is to plan in a manner that requires effort and destabilizes our senses. Remember, planning itself gives us a sense of growth. 

For instance, you may like to use an abundance of color to make it grand. Or, you may plan a vacation from home to Paris by planning two days of French living and take a culinary adventure/ buy a memoir/ solve a giant puzzle to go with the experience. You may go on a nature trail or bring a lot of nature home. Or, you may simply abstain from Netflix and screens for a week as your grand gesture.

You will know what is grand for you. You will know what will destabilize your senses. 

Some tips to make it successful:

1.Keep a start date and end date- block it off the calendar. 

2.Set the plan – a travel themed vacation from home, a house camp, a nature trail. 

3.Invite co-thinkers or co-planners – like friends you take a holiday with or/and services that you can outsource. There are people who can send you a complete table setting and planned menus. 

This season, as you manage physical distancing and stay safe, become selfish and make room for a Grand Gesture for yourself. It creates superpower for you.

3 simple practices will make you nurture a growth mindset

Thirty five seconds into Eshna Kutty’s video and I was already thinking why am I in my 40s today. Barely reaching her ankles, her maroon cotton saree’s pallu (the loose end) tucked in her waist made her entire look comfortably glamorous, like her stunning dark, short, curly hair. Here she was on my screen, in her white Puma shoes, hula hooping on a song I had loved in my 30s, ‘Genda phool’ from Delhi 6. 

A few days back, Eshna Kutty’s video was all over the internet. This was not the first time she was wearing a saree and hula hooping but this video launched her as a social media star in a matter of a few hours. And made me gape when it reached my timeline. I don’t know if it is the rigidness of my body or of the mind that makes me envious. It is not the joie de vivre of the 24 year old Eshna, it is not the fact that saree can be so much fun and not only a formal wear,  it is not even wearing sports shoes on a saree, I have done that often, it is not even hula hooping that makes me conscious, all these elements are the spice to her effortless moves. What stood out for me was her ease and comfort around her own imperfections! In a blink-of-an-eye moment, the hoop slips and yet she is comfortable.The envy, though for a fleeting moment, felt like an age-related jealousy, was actually a gentle reminder for me to embrace my own certain imperfection. The raw setting of Eshna video makes it real and if you browse more on her timeline and read her interviews you will realise while she is mastering the art, the art of flow she is comfortable with her own imperfections. 

Hugging your own imperfections are the first set of tools of a growth mindset. Carol Dweck, author of the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success wrote about mindsets. What are mindsets? Mindsets are self conceptions, the way we structure ourself and guide our behaviours. These are views about our own abilities. She has defined that we have two types of mindsets : Fixed Mindset and Growth Mindset. In her book, Dweck talks about how consciously or subconsciously our thoughts affect what we want and whether we can succeed in getting it depending on the type of mindsets we keep. 

She writes: I’ve seen so many people with this one consuming goal of proving themselves— in the classroom, in their careers, and in their relationships. Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character. Every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser?

Changing our beliefs can have a powerful impact. The growth mindset creates a powerful passion for learning. She continues, “Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you?” The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.

People with fixed mindsets believe their intelligence, talent and abilities are fixed. They take failures as setbacks and avoid challenges. Dweck explains “In the growth mindset, failure can be a painful experience. But it doesn’t define you. It’s a problem to be faced, dealt with, and learned from.”

A fixed mindset leads to a desire to look smart and therefore a tendency to avoid challenges, ignore or avoid negative feedback, and give up easily when faced with obstacles. People with fixed mindset, as a result, may plateau early and achieve less than their full potential. 

A growth mindset, in contrast, believes that intelligence can be developed. It creates a desire to learn and therefore develops a tendency to embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks and pick up learnings from their failures. As a result they reach higher levels of achievement.  

If you are wondering which type of mindset you have, remember, we all have parts of both types. One type may be predominant in our behaviour and we need to, through our actions and thoughts, nurture more of the growth mindset. Nourishing a growth mindset is like nurturing peace within oneself. A growth mindset stimulates creativity. It helps in not just a progressive learning culture, but it also builds resilience. See the image at the bottom.

There are several suggestions to work on developing a growth mindset. In this week’s column on Habits for Thinking, I want to bring your attention to three practices which can be moved from ideas and thoughts to action. 

1.   Accept your imperfections:

Eshna Kutty’s ease of accepting her imperfection stood out. When I looked up more on her, I realised she is nurturing growth mindsets in people. In an interview she said: “This was just one video that went viral, but my previous work is also on the same lines. I’ve never really been the person who flaunts perfect moves – it’s more of bloopers, behind-the-scenes, and me just messing up because I don’t want it to feel like this is impossible or this is something that is not meant for the stereotypically unfit body.” 

To acknowledge and accept imperfection is a giant step towards getting better and learning. Not hiding from a weakness gives a vantage point of change and growth. 

2. Focus on the process

Sports programs do that to you. It teaches you to focus on the process. Nobody talks about the goal, that is a common knowledge. What coaches focus on in everyday practice is the process. Each move is analysed and worked upon. For a swimmer it could be the angle of the head when it comes out of water for a breath or for a squash player it could be the way the player has to move back to play out of the back court. 

Focussing on the process does many things. It makes you enjoy the process more, it makes you measure your success in everyday work and it also gives a roadmap to understand when the goal doesn’t end up in a desired result.  

3. Using “Not Yet”

This is something I picked up after wrapping up my failed attempt on entrepreneurship. When suggested – so you are an entrepreneur, instead of answering in a straight no, which I did for sometime I moved to saying it Not Yet with deliberate practice. It changed my energy settings towards more warmth. I had heard Carol Dweck’s talk on the power of Not yet. She had picked this lesson from a school where teachers wrote ‘Not yet’, instead of writing ‘fail’ for those students who didn’t qualify a particular test. Not yet, simply keeps the path to progress open. It keeps the learning ladder standing. 

If you are struggling, try telling your mind I am not there yet. The mind listens. 

Eshna reminded me of my personal challenge to share a post of my headstand. Sounds simple, right? I have been trying to learn to stand on my head for a long, long time. It is a shifting goal. To  challenge myself, I had promised to post a picture of a perfect headstand. I am not there yet. But here you go Eshna, my headstand pose in my red brogues. I stood with initial support that you cannot see and only for a few seconds. Perfect? Not yet!

Sure-fire Strategic Genius of Fighter Pilot John Boyd

Tewatia woke me up. In the same way like IPL has woken up living rooms from the Netflix coma. For me, a passerby, an ignorant and cold spectator of the IPL, this was an unusual  event. Both his name and the story of his spectacular over became a moment to sit up and take note. Especially the fact that his performance in the prior minutes was abysmal on that day. Tewatia, the name and the name bearer’s action woke me up and many others. 

Indian Premier League, the mega event, turns workstations of brands and businesses into war zones. Nobody wants to miss an opportunity to connect with their audience, whether it is through advertisements, offers or simply social media posts. That evening, marketers, sitting with a hawk eye to catch an opportunity, observed Tewatia’s sixers and bombarded their social media with messages featuring Tewatia. 

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War-zone like ambience of social media teams during events like these is a good example of Observe- Orient- Decide- Act- OODA Loop model. US Military war strategist, John Boyd, a veteran officer known for his quickest reaction time for air attack, designed the OODA Loop model. Not much is known about what went into Tewatia’s head in that over but a lot is known about Boyd and how he has used his strategies for his tactical wins. 

About John Boyd

As my work involved strategy and then later entrepreneurship was appended to it, my interest in Boyd’s work grew significantly. Lesser known in the general management space, Boyd’s work is referred to in a few strategy discussions. One reason for his work not to be popularly known is that John Boyd didn’t leave much documentation behind. 

First let me tell you about him and then about his model. Colonel John Richard Boyd, United States Air Force was born in 1927 and when he attained his age eligibility for voluntary military service, he joined the Army Air corps in 1944 and served in Japan. After completion of his service, he returned to the USA, studied Economics and joined the United States Airforce. He became a fighter pilot and a stint in Korean war positioned him as the leader in tactics for the squadron. When he returned to the USA, he was stationed at the Air Force Flying school where he wrote the manual, Aerial Attack Study, which is still considered as the definitive manual for the force. He was only 33 then. What I really admire about Boyd is how his urge to keep learning took him to do an Engineering course at Georgia Tech, while he was still on the Air Force duty.  Take a look at his fascinating learning aptitude timeline School- Military- Graduation in Economics-Air Force Combat-Engineering and then back to teaching at the Flying school. It was during his studies that he designed Energy Maneuverability Theory that radically changed military aircrafts designs. He went on his intellectual pursuits and wrote warfare theory – OODA Loop. He passed away in 1997.

The research paper1 writes, “Boyd left us with little written work, but with invaluable insights into what is needed to gain a competitive advantage in any environment or any situation, retaining the ability to hold the initiative and move forward on one’s own terms.”

The Model – OODA LOOP


Like social media teams at different companies observed Tewatia’s action and turned it into a communication opportunity, Observe here is to take into account the details of the events happening in the environment. See an example unfold in the following images.

Like an imaginary fintech company, say MadamRupaiya, may observe the amended farmer bill, see the story unfold in the illustrations. 


This is one of the most challenging steps in the entire decision making process. To orient is to form a mental model based on your hypothesis and observation. It is not simple. It is a totally individual experience and is governed by cultural traditions, previous experiences, genetic heritage, influences and biases. So how I orient or make a mental model about a situation is unique to me. If someone has a limited mental map or a narrow perspective, he will be restricted in his orientation, almost like watching a pyramid from an angle that looks only a triangle and taking that as the reality. Some political leaders who lead with religious biases demonstrate such limited orientation. In a business environment, the leader puts together a taskforce to this process. Members of the taskforce work individually and collectively both to arrive at decision points. 

Now, our imaginary company MadamRupaiya is orienting it’s thoughts. It is thinking of the current customer base, its understanding of lending in the agricultural space, its own culture and team’s ability, it’s competitor mapping etc. 


This is the time to commit to a course of action. 

Wait, Madam Rupaiya is now setting up a team to ally with corporates. The company is deciding to walk to the farmers’ fields with their corporate partners, one of them for the produce, the other to be the lending arm. 


Get into action. Launch. Attack.

Madam Rupaiya has made some inroads  with the farmers. But the company learnt and observed unknown state’s policies. It is therefore reorienting its offerings in this state. 

It is called the OODA loop for a reason – here, when you decide to act and take the actionable step you test your hypothesis, reorient, decide again and act. This is similar to MVP or minimal viable product model in innovation and startups. In the entrepreneurial world, you do not wait for a perfect product or a service. You observe the space, orient your offer and decide a course of action. As you launch the minimal viable product and gather information which becomes the base for your observation, it helps orient your decision and improve the product.  OODA is not a single step, the loop is an on-going interdisciplinary process that continues. 

Speed of action was of critical value for Boyd. At the flying school while working as instructor,  Boyd earned a name, “Forty Second Boyd” or his bet that beginning from a position of tactical disadvantage, he could defeat any opposing student pilot in less than 40 seconds. Boyd’s key strategy was faster use of his own mental OODA loop in air combat maneuvering.

A real business example is AirBnb’s story that demonstrates the model. The founders, at an age and time when they needed money to pay for their rentals while working on their projects, observed that there was a design convention being hosted in their neighbourhood. They oriented their thought process and decided to open their residential apartment to share with convention attendees who were willing to pay for bed, breakfast and internet. Observe the reaction, orient some more services, decide to use technology and act. The team exemplified an OODA loop then and it continues to observe and orient in the new pandemic-led circumstances. 

Orient and Decide steps are the organisation’s internal processes, whereas the Observe and Act parts are meant for the external world. For any company, Orient is the differentiator. It involves strategic, creative thinking, analysis, cultural understanding and becomes the step that builds the moat around an organisation.

Tewatia, at the warfront on that day, was able to orient and act at the right time. And, so were the social media teams. OODA Loop is a strategic tool that is based on scientific theories, but that is a discussion for some other day. The point to remember is that an OODA loop is a mental process for both an individual and the business. 

“Machines don’t fight wars. People do, and they use their minds.” —Col John R. Boyd 

1 A Symbiotic Relationship: The OODA Loop, Intuition, and Strategic Thought by Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey N. Rule, United States Marine Corps, United States Army War College Class of 2013

You need to know what connects Ginsberg, Bezos, and your leadership

“Don’t worry, you are not the only one. Most people have googled Ruth Bader Ginsberg,” read Malvika’s Insta story on one of this week’s mornings. That morning most Insta stories were of the lady in a black robe with her trademark white collar. Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the iconic Supreme Court justice in the USA passed away this week making citizens in her country erupt on the streets and elsewhere in the world emerge on social media, irrespective of whether she was entirely known to them or not. In her death, she made the social media timelines look more intelligent. In real life, she altered timelines of people through her extensive work. So when I read Insta story of Malvika Mehra, a celebrated creative personality in Indian advertising, I couldn’t help but think- this is us, maybe less knowledgeable but not untouched by the personality. 

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, 87, a towering personality in her petite frame, the second woman to serve in the US Supreme Court died on 18th September, 2020. She is known for her landmark work, for 27 years in the Supreme Court, for her pioneer advocacy for women’s rights, for her several bouts with illness and comebacks, for her sets of push-ups in her 80s and for her collars, the jabot. 

‘The Fearless Girl in the lace collar at the Wall Street’ replaced the earlier posts a couple of days ago. Justice Ginsberg had started wearing a collar when she realized that the robe was designed for men to show their collar but not for the women. She started wearing a jabot during her court appearances. The collar became her identity and later earned a name. Originally given to her in a Glamour Women of the Year gift bag in 2012, she wore this Banana Republic embellished collar in 2016 when an incredibly divisive and contentious presidential campaign ended in the election of Donald Trump. That day, her collar took a name she had given – the Dissent collar. The dissent collar, now worn by the Fearless Girl as a tribute, then gave birth to body tattoos and a thousand memes along with regular merchandise of t-shirts and pins. And, the Fearless Girl is on Malvika’s cover page and other pages. We are now moved by the personality.

“Teach the word Dissent to your girl” were some of the social media posts that rallied around this week. A dissent as defined by the law dictionary is ‘the opinion of a judge of a court of appeals, including the U.S. Supreme Court, which disagrees with the majority opinion.’ Sometimes a dissent may eventually prevail as the law. Justice Ginsburg is remembered as much for her judicial dissents as for her majority opinions. One of my favorite of her dissents is Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (2007): Ginsburg wrote the dissent in the 5-4 case, which denied Lilly Ledbetter the right to sue her employer for gender-based pay discrimination. This dissent led the then-president Barack Obama to sign a Lily Ledbetter fair pay act in 2009. 

I Dissent” is a picture book that tells RBG’s story through the lens of her many disagreements–from the time she was a child disagreeing with the rule at school that said left-handers (like her) had to write with their right hands–and shows young readers that disagreeing does not make a person disagreeable; that you can change your life and even the world one disagreement at a time. Probably, this explains the posts on teaching the word dissent on the social media. We are now in awe of the personality.  

“I disagree and commit,” said Jeff Bezos to his Amazon Studios team, in a world away and unrelated from Justice Ginsberg. He had to make a decision about a production concept which he felt was debatable in terms of the interest quotient, complicated production issues, and business terms. Yet, instead of spending time on agreeing and committing, he chose to disagree yet showed his commitment. 

In this week’s column on Habits for Thinking, here we are learning from Justice Ginsberg’s impactful use of ‘Dissent’ and Jeff Bezos ‘Disagree and Commit’  and adding the potential of disagreeing to our leadership style. 

A dissent is powerful and empowering. 

So is, to disagree and yet commit. It is powerful and empowering. 

Dissents are futuristic.  “Dissents speak to a future age. It’s not simply to say, ‘my colleagues are wrong and I would do it this way.’ But the greatest dissents do become court opinions and gradually over time, their views become the dominant view. So that’s the dissenter’s hope: that they are writing not for today, but for tomorrow.” Justice Ginsberg had said in an interview. 

Disagree and commit prepares for the future. Bezos said in a shareholder address in 2016– “This phrase will save a lot of time. If you have a conviction in a particular direction even though there’s no consensus, it’s helpful to say, ‘Look, I know we disagree on this but will you gamble with me on it? Disagree and commit?” By the time you’re at this point, no one can know the answer for sure, and you’ll probably get a quick yes.”

This is one of the four tenets of high quality, high-velocity decision making at Amazon. The other three are- first, one size doesn’t fit all decision-making process, secondly, decide with 70% information, waiting for 90% information will be being slow and thirdly recognize misalignment and escalate them. 

As team leaders, we must agree to disagree, when the need comes. A disagreement has to be weighed with these perspectives: 

1 A roadmap for the future: Your disagreement should be voiced to open new thoughts for the future of the business. Like disagreeing in a data architecture discussion to protect future privacy issues is a roadmap for the coming days. It opens a dialogue to be addressed for the good of the business.  

2 Commitment is for the team’s ability: In case of innovation or new concept decisions, your disagreement should not slow down the process. When you disagree and commit, you show the commitment to your team’s ability. No predictions were made to suggest businesses would suffer in 2020 for reasons that are not under our control. Remember that firstly no future planning is full proof and secondly, the ability to drive strong depends on the team’s abilities. Commit to your team’s strength.

3 Failure is still yours. To disagree and commit is to remember there is no room for ego in making decisions. In the eventuality of the failure of the decision, the leader is still responsible.  

Justice Ginsberg’s ‘Dissent’ and Jeff Bezos ‘Disagree and Commit’ are different yet very similar. They both teach us that disagreeing is for the greater good if steered well.