Jeff Bezos: the best Gatekeeper for Wally Funk

Chances are you would not have heard of Wally Funk a couple of weeks back. Chances are you are reading this name for the first time here. I learnt about her while curating articles for the weekly edition of The Read Aloud Club last week. Who is Wally Funk? I want to tell you the story of this 82 year old lady who featured on Jeff Bezos’ instagram post last week as his guest to be a part of the inaugural space shuttle, Blue Origin’s crewed flight,  along with Bezos. At 82. 

Wally Funk is 82 years old. At 22, 60 years ago, she had spent 10 hours 35 minutes floating in a water tank in a sensory deprivation room, dark enough to not see anything and soundproof to not hear anything, as a part of the Women Astronaut test. She was pulled out of the dark room water tank not because she didn’t cope with it, but because she had broken the record for staying the longest. In another test at the same time, icy cold water was injected in her ear to test tolerance of vertigo pain induced by it. While she passed all the tests, gates were kept closed for women in space. The program for women in space was called off. 

This week, Jeff Bezos opened the gates to space for Wally Funk as he chose her to be the guest on the Blue Origin space trip. Here is his announcement on his instagram post:

Gender stereotypes are real. Across most cultures and most countries. But this article is not about women and equal rights, this is about you and me and every adult with the ability to make decisions. In today’s Habits for Thinking, I am focussing on our role as the gatekeeper, a role that each one of us plays in personal and professional life. I am bringing your attention to the gatekeeper’s mind. 

The Gatekeeper Mind: 

We make several small and big decisions in our daily life. Some decisions have an impact on others’ life and that impact is like a gatekeeping job. For instance, as a team leader, you may deny a trainee to negotiate a deal. This decision is based on two notions: firstly, trainees are not experienced enough to negotiate a deal and secondly, your judgement of the person as you assess his capability to handle it. The fact that he is a trainee influences your judgement. The two notions are not independent of each other. Typically a trainee would not be assigned the role. But, your judgment surpasses the first notion and you find him smart to take up the job.  As you allow the trainee to negotiate, you open the gate for him. 

But most gatekeeping doesn’t earn much thought- these happen because our society has made them as norms that have been accepted across cultures and generations, at workplaces and at homes. That is what makes gatekeeping a not-so-obvious, passively active, process in our minds. Passive because we don’t give much thought to it, active because we are always doing the job of gatekeeping. 

Wally Funk, the 82 year old shows us the two sides of the gatekeepers mind. One, that closes gates for her and the other that she keeps it open inside, her own mind. 

The Gatekeeper told Wally Funk: You are not a man

In 1962, a congressional hearing considered the question of adding women to its astronaut corps, and John Glenn, the first man to go to space, had gone through capability tests along with Wally, fresh off his historic journey, dismissed the possibility: “The men go off and fight the wars and fly the airplanes and come back and help design and build and test them. The fact that women are not in this field is a fact of our social order.” That fact stuck for more than two decades, until Sally Ride launched into orbit in 1983, the first woman to go to space. 

The Gatekeeper told Wally Funk : You are not an engineer

For the next few years, Wally Funk sought out more tests to prove her capability.She applied to NASA’s astronaut corps four times, but the agency wanted its astronauts to have engineering degrees, and Funk didn’t have one. Today, NASA has different requirements for its astronauts; prospective candidates can have degrees in other science fields, not just engineering.

Wally Funk is the best Gatekeeper of her own mind. Everytime a gatekeeper stopped her, her mind continued marching forward. She may not have gone to space, but she didn’t deter either. She continued working as a flight instructor and later became the first female investigator for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), looking into plane crashes.

How did she feel when it ended? “Well, it’s not going to stop me. It doesn’t matter.” Wasn’t she disappointed? “I don’t have that kind of a life. I’m a positive person. Things were cancelled? So what? Wally’s going on. Why are people so negative? I’m not a quitter.”

An excerpt from an interview in The Guardian

Gatekeeping is a necessity. How to live and let live, how to behave are some of the norms that have been defined as the law. That is why inclusivity, gender diversity are some of the new changes in the law that will change lives. Gatekeeper is an individual mindset that functions in a non existential way. Covered by  societal norms and bound by cultural threads, it works on its own framework of decision making.

Each one of us plays the role of a gatekeeper, mostly sub-consciously, both for oneself and for the circle of influence that one has. Here are some of the reference points to seed the consciousness in you: 

1. Gatekeeper of your own thoughts:

Wally Funk

So when the opportunity for space travel does arise, Funk will be ready. 

And if it doesn’t, she’ll be ready anyway. 

Wally Funk didn’t stop. We are often stopped by our own thoughts. It seems unachievable because no one in and around has been that far. That is gatekeeping of your own ambition. I have gone through internal resistance on a couple of occasions and everytime one has to fight one’s thoughts with logic and clarity, and keep the gate open.  There is always a gatekeeper in one’s own mind. 

2. Gatekeeper of people’s dreams and potentials: 

Parenting taught me the lessons of gatekeeping. It made me conscious to define if I was holding the gate open or close to people at work. Parenting teaches you that your job is to create opportunities for children to find their interest and passion. You open more and more gates. As a leader at the workplace, this is what you have to remind yourself and see if you can open gates to achieve higher potential. 

There will be occasions that you may not agree completely to an idea proposed by the team. It happens in creative pursuits and I like the Jeff Bezos way of working: to disagree and commit. Read more about it here. 

3. Gatekeeper of the right and the wrong:

We are born in a culture built years ago. Similarly, when we walk into a new leadership role, we walk into a culture that has been nurtured by previous leaders. One need not accept every nuance. A gatekeeper of the culture has to keep moral intelligence awake where you make decisions not because all generations have been doing it but because you need to do it. Some offices have the culture where during the meeting, juniors will sit on the side while seniors on the table, even if the junior is an integral part of the discussion or the boss will be called only when all attendees have arrived in the meeting room. If you have worked in Nariman Point offices, the original high rise workplaces in Mumbai, you would have experienced elevators reserved only for Directors. When the offices shifted to Bandra Kurla Complex, this culture was plucked out. 

It might be a PR stunt for him but look at what Jeff Bezos has done – a woman ✓, a woman with a space dream ✓✓, a woman with a space dream and rejected on gender issues ✓✓✓. ‘Taking Funk on this ride may be a great PR stunt, but at its core, it is a real gift, to a real person,’ writes The Atlantic. Jeff Bezos has been the best gatekeeper for Wally Funk. 

We all face gatekeepers. We all are gatekeepers. Gatekeepers of our thoughts, of opportunities for others, of societal norms. Let us remember to keep gates open. 

Naomi Osaka redefines quitting and our thinking

Naomi Osaka withdrew from French Open Tournament 2021 last week. Sports teaches us not to quit. Most parents are advised to make children learn some form of sports so that they become tough to handle a loss.  

In another story of a boy, he was not even ten years old when he attained an international player’s rating in his sport and that too a decent opening rating. Within a year, the more he played tournaments, the more he lost his rating points. At ten, you don’t know how you are supposed to think and here was a little boy who was trained to believe that he cannot afford a loss. The more he thought about his rating points, the more he lost, and the more his confidence came down. He would be an aggressive and his bold self with a higher rated opponent and would get stressed with a lower rated opponent, because you lose more points when you lose against a lower rated player. An intervention of a sports psychology counsellor helped the parents understand how to deal with this little life who was living a big one inside his head. Apart from many small suggestions, the parents were advised to not say that they were proud of the child, because it made him build large expectations in his mind. ‘You make me proud’ was replaced by ‘do you want to use the washroom before you start the match’  or ‘would you like to eat a banana’, no matter how proud the mother felt when the boy played for hours together and lost and then woke up again next morning to face an opponent with a fresh mind, hopefully not to lose again. 

They went again and again to participate in matches not to simply win and get better but to learn not to quit, not to quit when inappropriate. Mental well being is a real issue. Ill mental health doesn’t make any announcement, it just creeps in. During early stages it is a matter of understanding, addressing and dealing with it. Ignoring or discounting makes it grow in a bigger, worse state. 

Sachin Tendulkar, after years of retirement, shared about his anxiety related challenges which he endured during his career. Decorated swimmer Michael Phelps talked about his depression that he suffered, only after being able to successfully come out of it and face another Olympics, successfully again. Naomi Osaka, the woman who is the top tennis player, the highest paid female athlete ever, the young and intelligent whose bout of mental illness started when she won her first grand slam, is talking about mental health not after dealing with it, but while enduring it. 

While sports teaches not to quit, here is Naomi Osaka teaching valuable lessons by actually quitting a tournament. In today’s Habits for Thinking, I am bringing your attention to Naomi Osaka’s decision to leave the tournament and how it is a wake up call, loud and clear, for people,brands and companies to understand and learn and act from her decision.  Here are some thinking lessons that we can pick up from her ability to walk away.

Naomi Osaka is walking the talk: 

The player announced her reservation towards speaking to the media well in advance. She would have been acutely aware of her distractions towards performance on the court and she took a step towards staying focused so she decided to stay away from media. More than just fine for blacking out any media, the authorities also used social media to pass a slight remark “They understood the assignment” featuring other players who talked to media. Whatever would have led to Naomi’s decision of leaving the tournament, it was just another step by her to keep her mental well being safeguarded. She only walked her own talk. 

The thinking: While businesses and companies are talking about WFH related mental well being, they need to learn to walk the talk. Some people in the team need more effort, more rest than the others.  

Naomi Osaka has changed the narrative: 

Out of the many things that pandemic has changed, one is how people take a stand and support empathetically or remain silent. Rohit Brijnath wrote in Mint – “A summer when many of us saw the heroic from the unknown and silence from heroes.

During earlier tournaments, Naomi Osaka wore masks to support Black Lives Matter. I wrote about it here “medium is the message”. This time she is standing for herself. Naomi has changed the narrative.  She has not only spoken for others silently, she is speaking for herself too, silently, by taking a step away from the noise. 

Naomi Osaka Supports Black Lives Matter

Pandemic has changed the narrative for many, not just Naomi. I was stunned and in awe of the courage of a lady, an author, with more than 12,000 followers on her social media, when she shared her pain of first coming out of hospital alone, leaving her husband behind still healing, then shared his deteriorating condition, to his passing away and to her first day without him. A mother of two children, asked for support through prayers, gathered courage through wishes and is battling grief through her virtual connections. 

The Thinking: More and more people come out to share their deep, personal pain and grief. This creates a real ambience of acceptance. The narrative has changed, not only to speak but also to be heard. Brands and companies have to pay attention to the new narrative and create a safe space for acceptance. 

Naomi Osaka demonstrates that the media is democratized:

The furore started with avoidance of the media. When she left the tournament, she left with a message on her social media, reaching not only to her followers but the world’s media. Today, everyone has access to make themself heard, irrespective of the presence of media persons. 

It is time to realise that the media’s role needs redefinition. Media has the power to change the trajectory of the ball. Media’s consciousness will help the world, not only for mental health but for overall well being and growth. Instead of reacting to the blackout, they had the power to question why an athlete is forced to face a press, during the series, and why not only at the end of any tournament? Why can’t they be given a choice? Is player protection more important than the tournament’s publicity? 

The Thinking: Many times, startups and companies do take a position of power when their social following is large, that they do not need any media. Both, the influencer and the media are important and need each other. It is time we change the norms and define new roles. Instead of fighting the presence of social media and platforms that influencers use, we understand that the media’s role to create an availability cascade is not just to change the trajectory, but can help the world. Similarly, influencers that play big on social media, need to remember the value of power of media and not get carried away.

Mental health is a personal challenge, but it is one illness that gets aggravated by other people and their reactions. Naomi Osaka’s depression started in 2018 with her first grand slam victory. Instead of celebrating a precious moment with bright eyes and open arms, she stood on the stage with drooped shoulders and the tear laden face hidden behind her visor. She had been booed more than she could take during her first big victory.

Each one of us plays a role in the mental well being of others, knowingly or unknowingly. Only empathy and thinking before reacting can help others. Naomi Osaka by leaving this tournament has shown us the path of keeping a promise of care, the path of healing and recuperating by acceptance, and the truth that the biggest influence in life is one’s own thought, not the muscle-flexing outside world.

That is what the boy was taught by shutting the noise, to learn to control the thoughts. And the mother is proud, loud and clear.

For Continued Success, Focus On Lead Measures

Not pandemic, but GST implications converted Amar and Bharat, two brothers, working as contract employees in a warehouse and on a toll plaza respectively, into egg-roll sellers in a neighbourhood. Their father worked at my parent’s house in Bihar and both these brothers had left Bihar in pursuit of a respectable naukri. Each of them managed to land a job for a couple of years. One got employed in a warehouse and the other one on a toll plaza. But as the GST roll out became smoother and mandatory, the boys lost their jobs and started making egg-rolls for a living. 

GST eliminated the cascading nature of the pre-existing tax system like inter-state tax, road permits, VAT system etc. The implementation of GST turned the whole country into a single market. This meant the manufacturers did not have to build separate warehouses at different locations. GST rollout not only reduced concentration of warehouses in certain areas to save taxes, it also reduced toll collection in those areas as traffic reduced due to shutting down of some of these warehouses. Not pandemic, the brothers lost their jobs due to GST implications without realising what hit them. 

Just around the same time, before the complete roll out of GST, investment decisions were being considered for infrastructure companies like toll roads. Big decisions, for example making investments in the warehouse company or the toll operator company are long horizon decisions. The decisions are made today for the results to come in during a decade or more. One must realise, when investors make decisions with long horizons, they calculate the risks posed at the time of decision making. Still, some large decisions fail despite being a calculated decision, like due to the impact of GST rollout. But if you look close, the failure is not of the decision but failure is of the ability to measure the progress to reach the goal after the decision was made. 

Decisions, big or small, are made in the present while their impact shows in the future. More and more business heads and decision makers are focussed on the goal measures like revenue, profit numbers, so when the goal is unmet, the blame goes on the decision and not on the progress measures. Amar and Bharat, the two jobless brothers, brought my attention to the importance of right metrics to track progress for all decision makers that should not lead to any closure. 

In this week’s edition for Habits for Thinking, let me introduce you to the concept of Lead Measures, measurements that are meant for keeping an eye on the progress. Lead Measures and Lag measures are defined by the authors of 4 Disciplines of Execution by Sean Covey and Chris McChesney. 

“No matter what you are trying to achieve, your success will be based on two kinds of measures: Lag and Lead. Lag measures track the success of your wildly important goal. Lags are measures you spend time losing sleep over. They are things like revenue, profit, quality, and customer satisfaction. They are called lags because by the time you see them, the performance that drove them is already passed. You can’t do anything to fix them, they are history.” 

Lead Measures vs Lag measures

“Once a team is clear about its lead measures, their view of the goal changes.” 

CHRIS MCCHESNEY, CO-AUTHOR OF THE 4 DISCIPLINES OF EXECUTION

The author continues, “Lead measures track the critical activities that drive, or lead to the lag measure. They predict success of the lag measure and are influenced directly by the team. A common example of a lag measure is weight loss. Which activities or lead measures will lead to weight loss? Diet and exercise! Proper diet and exercise predict the success of weight-loss and they are activities that we can directly influence. Simple enough, but be careful. Even the smartest people fall into the trap of fixating on a lag measure that they can’t directly influence. This is because lags are easier to measure and they represent the result we ultimately want.”

Measurement is a necessity for business and personal goals. But measuring only the end result may end up in a surprise. Lead Measures in simple terms are measures to define and keep an eye on the progress. Lead measures have some characteristics that are outlined below to help you define your own set of lead measures for the goal. 

1. Lead measures are predictive

Lead measures are predictive in nature so it means that if a lead measure will change, you can predict that the lag measure, or the final outcome, will eventually change too. Simply, if you are measuring weight loss and if you have changed a lead measure of how many times in the week you have exercised, it will change the end result too. 

2. Lead measures are influenceable

It can be directly influenced by the team. That is, the team can make a lead measure happen without a significant dependency on another team. A team dedicated on the shop floor can improve customer satisfaction scores independently of the team in the manufacturing department. 

This is easy to measure. But, lead measures can be abstract in nature too. For the toll company to predict the impact of GST in slowing down the revenue is a predictive analysis. But this cannot be a lead measure, because it is external to the company and hence cannot be influenced or controlled. What is influenceable however in this case are measurements like : Working deeply and widely on risk factors like identifying concentration of toll revenues. These  will serve as lead measures. These may seem as abstract in nature, but will have an impact on the lag measures for the business.  

3. Lead measures are smaller goals aligned to the bigger picture

In personal decisions like weight loss, participation in an exam, keeping an eye on lead measures is easier. Your daily diet program, your weekly fitness regime become the lead measures for weight loss.  Preparing for an exam is also directly proportional to the quality and the quantity of work. That becomes the lead measure. But for an athlete, at a top level performance, lead measures are difficult. The narrower the scope of improvement, the harder to measure it. In such cases, the performance gets broken down into smaller goals and gets measured accordingly. So for example, an ace swimmer has to work on a particular angle of diving in the pool to become faster. Small, yet hard to measure goals. Lead measures can be for smaller goals, for smaller teams. 

4. Lead measures can be behavioural in nature

Lead measures stand for “measure the new behaviors that will drive success on the lag measure.” like sampling free products in a bakery can serve as a lead measure to increase customer happiness. As you increase the numbers of customers who receive free samples, eventually will improve lag measures like revenue as well. Lead measures turn your attention to improving habits and behaviours you directly control in the near future that will have a positive impact on long term goals. 

Measurement is not to be seen as the yardstick for productivity, it is to be seen as the enabler of right behaviours for the team to achieve the goal. Behavioural shifts take time but create a leverage that has magnificent results leading to continued success. 

Vishakha Singh
Vishakha Singh

She has authored an online course SHIFT _ Simple Habits and Ideas for Forward Thinking. SHIFT is a set of ideas & habits that encourages you to think in an alert, creative style in the fast changing business environment. Vishakha writes a weekly column on Habits for Thinking to enhance a growth mindset at workplaces. Her writing mantra is to keep it simple and bring ideas to action.

Are you a choice architect?

Have you joined Koo? Or Clubhouse? Or both? Koo is another social media platform made in atmanirbhar India and is similar to twitter, I am told. Just the fact that it is in more languages than one, adds to its charm. On the other hand, Clubhouse is a platform for listening and talking that means only audio, no text, no video and no recording, again I am told. I have not joined any of these platforms. Not yet. I am worried that I may seem as rude to people who have sent me invites. I am very tempted to join Koo to read the conversations in Hindi. I am also tempted to join Clubhouse as I want to attend one chat around writing skills. Wait, to listen to learn about writing? Sounds odd. 

Some things do not come with a choice architecture. A choice architecture is the place that lays out boundaries for you to make decisions. Like, as a mother, I am laying boundaries for my children to make decisions for example late night boundaries or mobile app boundaries. For adults, there is no such thing like a phone that comes with a choice architecture. Something like you can only be on only two social media platforms? Sounds criminal. Suffocating may be the right word. Isn’t it? Lack of choice architecture in adult life makes us feel free, but that also means the onus on taking right behavioural decisions completely lies with us. 

What is choice architecture: 

Choice architecture coined by behavioural economists Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein (2008) refers to the practice of influencing choice by “organizing the context in which people make decisions” Here is an excerpt from their paper:

Decision makers do not make choices in a vacuum. They make them in an environment where many features, noticed and unnoticed, can influence their decisions. The person who creates that environment is, in our terminology, a choice architect. In this paper we analyze some of the tools that are available to choice architects. Our goal is to show how choice architecture can be used to help nudge people to make better choices (as judged by themselves) without forcing certain outcomes upon anyone.The tools we highlight are: defaults, expecting error, understanding mappings, giving feedback. 

In this week on Habits for Thinking, and as a second part to last week’s write up on behavioural economics and nudge theory, I am bringing your attention to designing your own choice architecture. 

Choice architecture is exercised by policy makers and many businesses to influence your decision making. Policy makers’ role is to get behaviours that are good for the people like nudging bike riders to wear helmets for protection or demeriting a product that is not good for consumers like putting a cancer stricken person’s photo on the pack of cigarettes. On the other hand, businesses have to thrive in a highly competitive environment. Most brands and businesses turn choice architects to influence behavioural decisions by their consumers. The question is how do we, as individuals, as consumers become a choice architect of our own to protect our interests. How do we make conscious decisions that are not driven by someone else’s influence? 

The first step is to define our own behavioural rules. To become a choice architect, let us look at the framework designed by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. There are four tools in designing a choice architecture: 

1. Defaults: Padding the Path of Least Resistance

Thaler & Sunstein research paper suggests making certain behaviours a default option—an option that will obtain if the chooser does nothing—then we can expect a large number of people to end up with that option, whether or not it is good for them. They used these nudges for organ donation, for signing up for savings. 

How a company uses: when you sign up for a website registration you have to opt-out to receive promotional newsletters. If you do not opt-out, you will get all promotional emails by default. 

How can you use: when you want to spend unadulterated time reading to your child, or in a meeting, leave your phone out of the room for that period. By default, you will not have the phone to get distracted. 

2. Expect Error: Humans make mistakes

A well-designed system expects its users to err and is as forgiving as possible. 

How a company uses: If you draft a mail on gmail and have forgotten to attach the document that you have mentioned in your mail, gmail reminds you to add the attachment. That is a positive nudge. 

How can you use: You have put a task, for example to write to someone, on your to-do list. It has been there for the last few days but you have not been able to complete this task. That’s an error that you are making. To design a productivity nudge for yourself, write a rule – either attack or kill the task after two days.  This means that after two days of being on the list, any task should either be addressed first thing on the third day or get discarded from the list if it is not important enough. By expecting that you may miss something on your to-do list, you can design a choice to be more attentive and productive.

3. Give Feedback: 

The best way to help humans improve their performance is to provide feedback, writes Richard Thaler. Well-designed systems tell people when they are doing well and when they are making mistakes. 

How a company uses: iPhone users have the facility to control screen time. The phone reminds every time the limit, set by the user, is over. 

How you can use: You want to change a habit, maintain a log of new behaviour and this will become your feedback system. For example, maintain an entry for your fitness regime that you want to improve, write down your workout details and how you feel after the workout. This journal will become your own feedback. How you feel will be your personal assessment tool, your frequency of workout will work as a feedback score. 

4. Understand mapping: 

A good system of choice architecture helps people improve their ability to map and hence to select options that will make them better off. One way to do this is to make the information about various options more understandable, by transforming numerical information into units that translate more readily into actual use. For example: When buying apples to make into apple cider, it helps to know the rule of thumb that it takes three apples to make one glass of cider. 

How a company uses: Car sellers give comparative features and prices for models in similar categories. This information mapping helps the buyer to make informed decisions. 

How to use: before joining another social media, map the time that it would consume from your 24 hours in a day. Map your other engagements. Remember, there are only 24 hours and that you are your own choice architect. 

Choice architecture is not limited to only these four tools. Reducing choice overload, incentives and communication like advertisements to influence behavior, packaging and placement of products are also some other tools that are designed by businesses around us. Organisations design nudges to influence behaviour of their employees. Many organisations do not give a choice of accessing social media platforms on employees’ laptops thus restricting the choice architecture by default. 

I do not work with any organisation that restricts usage of sites and apps on my devices. I am sure one day I will join these platforms and behave like a fly on the wall, the way I do on other platforms. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I am mapping the effort needed to curate my own timeline for these platforms. The choice I have made to be on social media is to learn, to pick up trends, to have fun in my way, which means I curate my timeline, I am conscious of whom to follow. 

Choice decisions are not only related to usage of technology but in every aspect of our lives. Food habits, fitness routines, knowledge gain and even the circle of friends are choices we make. Some choices become habits, some habits become default choices. It is important to reflect and revisit our choices that are driven by habits.

Being a choice architect takes efforts and failures. But, it is better to be a failure in your own choice architecture than to be a loser who has been influenced by others’ choices. So, are you a choice architect? 

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.”

WARREN BuFFETT

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.