#DeepWork40 Challenge 

What is Deep Work?

Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It is a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Deep work will make you better at what you do and provide the sense of true fulfillment that comes from craftsmanship. In short, deep work is like a superpower in our increasingly competitive, fast-changing economy.

Mails, messages, social media notifications, calls, meetings, agendas are all distractions to a continuous flow of attention. Cal Newport leaves a critical message in his book, Deep Work, “Overcoming your desire for distraction is what we need.”

Attention is not merely staying focused on the task at hand but is also how to process other information in the brain. Daniel Goleman, author, “Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence,” explores the power of attention. “Attention works much like a muscle,” he writes, “use it poorly and it can wither; work it well and it grows. Just like the muscles in our bodies, attention can become fatigued. Common symptoms of attention fatigue are lowered effectiveness, increased distractedness, and irritability. These symptoms also indicate depletion in the energy required to sustain neural functioning.” Read the article- Pay attention to your attention.

So practicing Deep Work has an impact not only on the work done during the practice, but it helps in efficient productivity, creative thinking, clear decision making leading to growth and success.

What is #DeepWork40 Challenge?

The challenge is to practice Deep Work 40 minutes for 21days to work with your intellectual sharpness and an uninterrupted concentration. 

While 40 minutes every day is a short duration, the difficulty level of this challenge is to maintain it.  As a part of the challenge cohort, you will be guided to create your deep work schedule through productivity tips. 

Practicing together as a cohort with a guide helps in adopting it as a habit. The only failure of this challenge is not trying.

Are you ready for the challenge? 


Who is this for?

If you find that 24 hours in a day is not enough to complete your work, then this challenge is for you. It cannot help you with the 25th hour but it will help you stay focused to complete your work. 

If you want to get better at your work, better time efficiency, more creative thinking, better decision making and more importantly to grow and succeed, then this challenge is for you. 

Do I have to join a class at a particular time everyday? 

No, Deep Work Challenge is your own challenge. You will be guided to create a schedule of your own.

Some dates and details: 

The Deep Work Challenge will begin on 14th March

Saturday, March 12th: Introductory briefing session

Sunday, March 13th: Registration closes 

Monday, March 14th: Start of the challenge

Sunday, April 3rd: Last day of the challenge

Monday, April 4th*: Closing Session 

Fee: NO Fee

Throughout the challenge, you will receive a handful of messages(through WhatsApp, email, and live sessions). You can also interact with me through emails and messages.

What do you need to prepare for this challenge?

Your commitment to improving your work concentration. 

You will be given planning tips and material and reflection prompt. Planning and reflecting will help you achieve your goals.

What is the benefit of joining the challenge?

Creating a deep work habit or strengthening your existing one makes you not just better at productivity but also sharper in your intellectual strength. It fosters creative thinking and problem-solving.  It enables you to quickly master hard things and helps you produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed.

Recording of the Introductory Session:

Mr. Nilekani’s Bitfulness and Forward Thinking

Mumbai, Jan 2022

Dear Mr. Nilekani,

We are friends, you may not know my name or my work or my ideas but the truth is that we are already friends, in fact not just friends but great friends. Am I sounding like a troll, the notoriously popular word that negatively impacts human relationships with technology? You may not have been trolled, but a lot of people with or without blue ticks get trolled on Twitter. I wonder if they knew how the word originated in Scandinavian stories as a creature that looks like an ugly person. Now, mostly people relate troll with the one who creates a deliberately offensive or provocative online post.

No, Mr. Nilekani I am not a troll, at least I am not trying to be a troll unless the context of my letter collapses as it does on social media which is another hazard for the relationship with the technology. Unlike troll that chars the internet human relationship, a friend reaches out with a letter. 

Reading your interview on “The Art of Bitfulness”, your latest book with co-author Tarun Bhojwani, brought in a broad smile, a friendly warmth. That makes us friends. The idea of being mindful about technology, its benefits on one’s own productivity, and growth is the idea I have been nurturing through a focus on the right habits suited for forward-thinking. What you call Bitfulness, is what I call SHIFT, an acronym for Simple Habits and Ideas for Forward Thinking, written as a course. What you call ‘not encourage to make a to-do list instead keep 15 minutes to delegate a task and complete the loop,’ I call it to block your time as deep work where you do not get distracted.  Sir, your coauthor, Tarun Bhojwani says, “write notes.” Not just he says write notes, he takes a comment from Richard Feynman who preferred writing notes. SHIFT does the same thing too, it is the third habit out of fifteen habits. 

Now you would understand why it brings a smile to my face. 

I realized I am a friend when you say in your interview on how the book is structured to ask subquestions like : “How can I, as an individual, take back control and how can we as a  society have a greater control say over our data? For the individual bit, the book has a bunch of strategies, but the most powerful is to think through your digital identity. “

While you go on and talk about privacy and other things related to data  and the internet, I stopped at the word ‘Think Through.’ I told you Mr. Nilekani, we are friends. Think Through is what I do for a living now. To make people understand that they can think through most of the challenges and have a growth mindset that has the ability of problem-solving, creative thinking, engaging, and most important reflective mind that is progressive for them and for people around them.  

Not wanting to think is also why habits are so successful. Familiar pathways of action are the ones of least resistance for our brains.‘- The Art of Bitfulness

I borrowed this line from the first few pages of your book. In addition to saying ‘not wanting to think’ that almost sounds like being lazy about thinking, there is another ingrained behavior- we have not been trained on how to sharpen thinking skills. Thinking as an activity has been taken for granted like running as a skill has been. To learn to run has not involved any training. No one trains to run better unless running is a competitive sport you choose. Similarly, there is no attention given to thinking as a skill training. We are trained to read, to study, to become proficient in a topic of our interest be it medicine, economics or what we like, but what we are not trained in is to think clearly and for ourselves. Thinking, as we understand and explained in detail by many academicians and Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman, is both a conscious and subconscious process.

Habits and thinking are like a circle of growth that feeds on each other. We are not trained to think, but the lack of that conscious thinking leads to bad habits. If we think and therefore consciously change habits, thinking gets clear. The circle grows bigger if better habits feed into better thinking and the circle shrinks if poor thinking keeps feeding poor habits. 

Bitfulness & Forward Thinking

IN SHIFT course framework, behaviour changes are through habits where you are at the center and the course brings your attention to your work processes and helps you interact better with your social surroundings. SHIFT shapes your interaction with your social surroundings by making your more engaged and empathetic and instilling habits that will help you grasp learnings from your ​​social ambience, even technology-led social ambience. Decision making, whether making simple choices or making irreversible, high impactful, life-altering decisions can be made better through thinking skills. These thinking skills are actually mental models adopted and practiced by highly successful people in science, business and sports. I have just curated them together and simplified them as easy-to-adopt habits for us to practice. 

Mr. Nilekani, I haven’t published a book yet, but I explain mental models through a compendium of articles, each with a story to relate to. Like this one which talks about a contextual collapse that leaders can face, or this which talks about the hedgehog concept

Some of us have grown up in an age where the internet and technology came down slowly like some water trickling down the stream and then suddenly there was a gush of water and everyone, no matter what age or size is standing in the river. Then there are some, actually many who are born in the river of technology. The ones who follow bitfulness in their own style, keep themselves dry by standing taller, but the ones who are unconscious, need to be helped to learn to stay dry in the gushing river of technology and the internet. 

Sir, I called you my friend, because you and I are attempting to do the same thing, bring in Bitfulness and forward-thinking habits to more people, by nudging them in the right direction.

I live on hope and action. Reading your interviews on The Art of Bitfulness gives me hope, if visionaries like you take thinking as a skill, it may become a mainstream program one day, like Aadhar is.  And that is a great dream to dream this republic day – a dream that individual lives will get better through making wise decisions, conscious problem solving and designing innovations. That will be an India shining the brightest amongst all. 

Happy Republic Day

Yours truly,

Vishakha Singh

Nandan Nilekani Pradeep Guha Vishakha Singh

P.S. A fan moment with Mr. Nandan Nilekani at IAA World Congress at Kochi, 2019, through my friend, mentor and maverick Mr. Pradeep Guha. I know if you would have been around PG, you would have sent this letter to Mr. Nilekani. Hope you are reading this and watching over us. 

15 Self Nudges for Growth 

One round and a little more. That was the instruction our coach gave. A few years ago a friend of mine and I started to train for a marathon. Two people who couldn’t run 200 meters at a stretch decided to do a half marathon, that is 21 kilometers. The plan was simple, start the marathon, walk and run some distance and then slip out of the route at a point closer to our home covering about 7-8 kilometers from the start. So it was not about the daunting 21kms but it was meant to experience the fun in the air by being a part of the jamboree. Those years, running a marathon was not so popular. Since we didn’t know how to run even 200 meters, we decided to train for the marathon. Half the world laughed at us hearing we were going to learn how to run. I was incredibly lucky to have come under this coach, popular and revered in the Mumbai runner’s community, Savio. Those days the community was small and still growing which meant we received dedicated attention from him. 

After a few weeks of training, during one of the exercises, he gave a small, simple, and subtle tip. Your round and a little more. It meant if you’re doing one round of the track, finish a little more ahead, If you are doing two rounds of the track, run a little extra. So no matter whatever is your run, doing a little extra will trick the mind. There was no definition of that little extra. It could be 10meters or 50meters. One round and a little more became the mantra, slowly and painfully. A little more, no matter how little, compounded. We finished 21 kilometers. 

A lot of things compound in life. And sometimes, different, small things come together in a manner that feels so giant, but they would have just compounded together.  Steve Jobs popularised ‘connecting the dots’ in his commencement address to Stanford graduates in 2005 where he meant that experiences come together to give us ideas in a manner that is very new, leading to innovation and growth.

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” 

Steve Jobs, Stanford commnencement address, 2005

The new identity embodies forward and upward-facing arrow made of a set of 15 circles, representing the course framework of 15 habits and ideas. For me, the circles are also communities of fellow learners, our own community. And you are not just corporate professionals but some of you are also startup leaders, private practice professionals like dentists, chartered accountants, freelancers, students, and even homemakers. Neither the age nor the designation, it is our quest to get better and grow that makes our community of fellow learners. So this identity, the forward and upward moving design is us- you and me together on the path of growth and a better life. 

Connecting the dots is essentially our experiences and principles that drive our habits coming together. This week, as I share the new identity and as it is my birthday week, I am sharing with you 15 nuggets as self nudges that have evolved and stayed with me over the years. These are not the mental models and habits that the SHIFT course has, these are my daily practice. These are the ones that have made me write the framework for SHIFT course mental models. These are the ways that keep me centered, make me more creative in thinking and help me navigate my everyday. Over the years they have compounded in meaningful projects, sustainable ideas, and life-changing decisions. 

These are 15 self nudges as they work as reminders for me for growth: 

  1. To write better, read more. To read better, write notes.
  2. A subtle change of a word brings in a substantial effect, both in written and spoken language. And, stay away from negative words.
  3. You cannot fight time. Accept it. Good time, bad time, beginning time, end time nothing is in your control. The only thing you can do is accept as it comes and act as judiciously as you can at that moment.  
  4. If you respect time, time will respect you too. Being punctual is keeping your promise with the time. 
  5. Promises made to yourself become your superpower. Take care of your own promise. A new year resolution is a promise made to the world. Staying truthful is a promise made to yourself. 
  6. Bring in deep work that is ‘no distraction work’. Start with 30 minutes of deep work, no phone, no social media, no emails… You will be surprised with yourself. Don’t grow from 30mins to 40mins to 60mins, instead grow 30minutes into two or three sittings. It is more sustainable.
  7. Upset your routine if the routine is not working for you, but keep a routine. It is the hardest thing to maintain but is the strongest support in your hard times.  
  8. Say thank you, always and always to the lift door operator and to anyone who opens a door for you. Also, open doors of opportunities for others. 
  9. Learn to segregate trash. E-waste, tetrapaks, and plastics are meant for separate trashcans. While throwing plastic containers of shampoo, handwash, oil, kitchen utilities collect till you have a big bag ready. It is easier on the rag pickers. A little care for green earth makes you empathetic for the unknowns too.
  10. Like fitness, be responsible for your own food, what to eat and when to eat. Help your parent, partner, roomie in the decision and arrangement process. 
  11. Relationships need attention, work, and care.  Also, make efforts to socialize. You don’t have to be a party animal but being social is an inherent need of human nature and keeps you enthused.
  12. While carving a new path and being stopped by others, think if your path is crossing societal boundaries or legal boundaries. If societal, don’t worry, they are just human-made boundaries and your path means you are creating a new boundary for your society. 
  13. If you think about how to achieve the goal, learn to think about how to fail too. Practice inversion thinking. 
  14. Acceptance of failure is going to be hard, really hard. So take your time. Non-acceptance of failure is not a choice. You will suffocate and not move at all.  
  15. Generosity is the single most virtue that separates a great leader from just another leader. Generosity is not just giving money and help, but the ability to forgive, to give attention, to share learnings too.

Things come together, in unexpected, compound ways. Food, fitness, routine helps in good times and hard times. Saying thank you nudges us to open doors for others. Being empathetic makes one creative in thinking. Innovation comes from noticing and experiencing the problem.

The two most important skills to lead a purposeful life are to think clearly and to communicate well.  Several dots join on their own to improve both of these skills. All you have to do is to have clarity about your own set of nudges, practice them, improve and repeat. And when you practice, remember ‘your round and a little more.’


What a face wash can teach about reflective thinking?

You name it and it is there. Avocado, Apple Cider Vinegar, Orange, Chamomile Tea, Rice, PinaColada, Grapefruit Margarita and more. It has all of these and even coffee- cappuccino, espresso etc. And most of the stuff is organic. No, it is not the menu list of a bar. It is not even a salad bar. It is the e-shop window for guess what- search for a face wash. 

Do you know the price of an avocado? A single fruit can range anywhere between Rs. 250-500. Not so widely popular as a fruit yet it is an ingredient serving the hungry consumer. 

It is not sophisticated enough that these face washes have edible ingredients, it gets another posh layer with the label, ‘organic’. Skincare products with expensive, exotic, empirical personalities!

This kind of variety is not only reflected in the skincare range but also in food. Try buying a natural peanut butter box or a healthy protein bar or breakfast cereals and the variety will leave you either crazy or confused. Each product description seems to be competing with another one. Not just skincare or food or fashion, this woke-age consumerism, where consumers are social and environmentally conscious drive a different shelf order on the retail stores. 

But today’s story is not about the new range of skincare, these are just reflections of consumer behavior. Today’s piece is about reflection, a reflection of events and behavior in and around us. 

Reflection is an important step in the thinking process. As we roll out the first edition of the last month of December, the month of reviews and reflections, in today’s Habits for Thinking, I want to draw your attention to something that is simple, yet not frequently practiced and that is to practice reflective thinking consciously, methodically and timely.  

How do we gain wisdom: “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience, which is the bitterest.”

Confucius

The great philosopher, psychologist, and education reformer John Dewey, author How We Think, examines what separates thinking, a basic human faculty we take for granted, from thinking well, what it takes to train ourselves into mastering the art of thinking, and how we can channel our natural curiosity in a productive way when confronted with an overflow of information. He writes:

Reflection involves not simply a sequence of ideas, but a consequence — a consecutive ordering in such a way that each determines the next as its proper outcome, while each, in turn, leans back on its predecessors. The successive portions of the reflective thought grow out of one another and support one another; they do not come and go in a medley. Each phase is a step from something to something — technically speaking, it is a term of thought. Each term leaves a deposit that is utilized in the next term. The stream or flow becomes a train, chain, or thread.

Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman, author of the iconic book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, has explained thinking and decision making. He describes the functioning of the brain in two systems: 

System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.

System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations. The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration.

The system 1 mind is a reflexive mind that reacts without considered thought while the system 2 mind is a reflective mind that takes time to react. 

Both, Kahenman and Dewey, throw light on reflective thinking. 

Dewey defines reflective thought as our single most potent antidote to erroneous beliefs:

Active, persistent, and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it, and the further conclusions to which it tends, constitutes reflective thought… It is a conscious and voluntary effort to establish belief upon a firm basis of reasons.

Reflective thinking is the deliberate practice of going through learnings. Reflective thinking can be practiced both as an individual and as a team.

Being a reflective thinker by analyzing and revisiting your experiences and decisions enhances critical thinking skills. For instance, spending time before taking a big, irreversible decision is reflective thinking where one goes through the pillars of decision and challenges beliefs around it. Learning from mistakes is reflective too as so is learning from new learnings. The world moved inside homes as workplaces and as it comes back to offices, the learning from WFH can be added to the new workplace regulations. This reflection will help bring new ideas to working environments. 

Reflections can be done with the teams. These can be about good and bad decisions, processes, and trends, both related and unrelated to the business. Take the case of the facewash trend. It throws light on some more learnings like: 

  1. The rise of direct-to-consumer brands is due to digital growth. Businesses need not wait for months to establish a distribution network to reach brands. It can be done almost immediately through e-commerce channels. 
  2. A conscious consumer is showing awareness of ingredients and aversion towards chemical products. 
  3. Irrespective of price points, the packaging is all glitz and glamour. One cannot judge the price by seeing the packaging. 

There can be many more learnings that can come through reflecting on these trends. It is a generic example and these learnings can impact our thinking in other decision-making irrespective of the business category. Learning about reflective thinking from trends in facewash is like washing one’s face and looking up in the mirror at the freshly cleaned glowing reflection. 

Reflective thinking develops higher-order thinking skills by applying new knowledge to prior understanding. Enhancing thinking expertise is like a glowing face after a good wash!


First Laugh, Then Think

To explain a joke is to kill a joke, and to translate a joke is to mercilessly kill a joke. I am not good at either explaining or translating. How can one be, if one is the subject of the joke all the time. Just last week, I sat in the cafe I have been frequenting almost daily in the past few weeks with my son and introduced him to one of the people there as the owner. Son asked, “Really? He keeps such a low profile, Mom. Doesn’t look like he is the boss here.” “Exactly, that’s why I am showing him to you,” I whispered. The place is called Amiel Gourmet. The manager is called Immanuel. Amiel the owner, Immanuel the manager,Amiel, Immanuel…el…el so the shortcut in my head mistook Immanuel as Amiel, the owner, until I had to save Immanuel’s number in my phone when I realised my blunder. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Thank God my son had left before this realisation. So you see, if I have to translate a meme to explain to someone, I might as well feature in it. That will be more impactful.

A meme on the internet based on the actress Sara Ali Khan.

(Sara- means all/full. Aadha- means half. Dher Sara means – many.)

We don’t have fun filled twists and turns in work life, definitely not in the online world, away from colleagues, in work from home environment. It is all straightforward, rectangular boxes on the screen, sometimes just the dark rectangle with the video off (the most common excuse beingpoor network) and the ones with the video on may be sitting in knickers and jackets. Life is like that. Hidden fun. Knickers in combination with jackets. Baby starts dancing on the bed, switch off the video. Spouse comes angrily at the disturbing child, and you switch off the video. Eat food. Must switch off the video. Mess under the table but a neatly, color coordinated bookshelf behind. Small joys but hidden joys. One wonders, is it more joyful because it is unseen, undiscovered, unheard. Memes, jokes are not rocket science. Joke tellers are. With the eyes that see the unseen, ears that hear the unheard, they write lines that extend the laughing lines. They bring notice to something mundane, something not so obvious yet something that is all around. 

Like the sounds of cats- the purring, chirping, chatterting, trilling, tweedling, murmuring, meowing, moaning, squeaking, hissing, yowling, howling, growling and other modes of cat communication that Susanne Schotz brought attention to. Who would have thought that writing down a paper on cat communication would win you a prize, a prize with a name that has Nobel in it and is given by a real Nobel Laureate. Susanne Schotz with two other colleagues won the Ig Nobel Prize in Biology for analyzing cat- human communication. Quite a cat!

Whoever wrote the phrase curiosity killed the cat would fear Schotz. She took the cat to kill her curiosity. Her curiosity of how cats communicate and her research on twilling, trilling, moaning, spurring etc got her a prize, a prize that stands for awarding, not-so-obvious, curiosity. 

If you are amused, or confused or humored, that is exactly what the organisers and judges of the Ig Nobel Prize would like you to be. In today’s habits for thinking, I am bringing your attention to a secret ingredient, the joy of chuckles, smiles and impromptu laughter. The joy of humour at the workplace. 

There is nothing as coveted and revered as the Nobel Prize. To create a parody on it is a serious business. What is Ignoble prize? Ig Nobel Prize, (a play on the words ignoble and Nobel. The pronunciation used during the ceremony is /ˌɪɡnoʊˈbɛl/ ig-noh-bel, not like the word “ignoble”.) — a parody of the Nobel Prize. It is awarded every autumn to celebrate 10 unusual or trivial achievements in scientific research. While the Ig Nobels don’t necessarily address the world’s most pressing challenges, they do represent the curiosity that is an intrinsic part of discoveries.

The annual ceremony at Harvard University recognizes research that “makes people first laugh, then think,” says Ig Nobel Prize founder Marc Abrahams, who along with a panel of experts evaluates thousands of nominations each year. Theawards are presented by genuine Nobel laureates at Harvard University. 

For example, staying on the subject of cats, one of the winners was: Are cats liquid or solid? Seriously? 

Yes. ‘Can a Cat Be Both a Solid and a Liquid?’ was inspired by photos of cats tucked into glasses and buckets. The researchers used mathematical formulas to conclude that active young cats hold their physical shape longer than older felines. 

As bizarre as it can be. 

The awards are not for the best or worst, but rather to highlight research that encourages people to think in unusual ways. In 2010, Sir Andre Geim was awarded a Nobel Prize in physics for his work with graphene, thus becoming the first person to have received both a Nobel Prize and an individual Ig Nobel. 

First laugh then think

A sense of humour is beneficial because it allows for new concepts to be entertained, writes The Guardian. Today the “butterfly effect” is well understood: a small disturbance like the flapping of a butterfly’s wings can induce large consequences far away. Yet the image was meant to be a joke, dreamed up by the organiser of a conference when the father of chaos theory, Edward Lorenz, failed to come up with a title for the ground-breaking paper he was to present. Instead, one was invented and “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?” was humorously accepted.

Laughter is a serious business:

There are comic artists that have built castles on laughter of others. Itis a serious business to create memes, crack jokes, do stand-ups and deliver crackling statements. Comic columns whether Dilbert or RK laxman and many others use humour to leave a thought. 

Using humor to bring attention to something has been a serious business. Bewakoof, the apparel brand, has built an empire of more than 10 million customers who have engaged on the basis of humor based social media interactions and merchandise. 

In today’s Habits for Thinking, the attention is on the humor, the subtle humor, the not-so-subtle humor and the gargantuan laughter. Each one brings some meaning to the workplace. Like the butterfly effect in the research that earns a name by being a subtle title and the Ig Nobel Awards that are not so subtle in humor, these layers of joy add more fuel to the curiosity. 

Being foolish, being humorous and bringing humor and foolishness is a sign of intelligence, a sign of curiosity, a sign of growth. 

Steve Jobs said in his famous Stanford commencement address: 

Much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. 

On the back cover of their final issue (The Whole Earth Catalog, a magazine he loved dearly) was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

First laugh, then think.

Managing Monkey Business through Interventions 

No, not monkey business but monkeys create actual business. A morning walk in the outskirts of Bangalore, near the airport, took me to acres of lush green grape vines sprawling a few meters above the earth trained meticulously on trellis. A peek inside the vine and you see green and dark bunches of grapes facing downwards, getting ready to be plucked in a few weeks. A glance above the vine and all you can see is meters of plastic net covering the plantation. Why? To keep it safe from monkey menace in the area. A quick Google throws up a list of vendors who have become experts for providing safety nets for monkeys, whether at farms or at balconies. A not so monkey business, a real business for many.

Monkey business, the phrase that stands for silly or mischievous behaviour, must have struck with Netflix engineers when they designed a system to play mischief with their own network system. They called it Chaos Monkey.  Chaos Monkey, Netflix’s resiliency tool  is responsible for randomly terminating instances in the network to ensure that engineers implement their services to be resilient to instance failures. Chaos Monkey, a successful tool available now since 2010 is based on the concept of Chaos Engineering.

Chaos Engineering is a disciplined approach to identify failures before they become outages. By proactively testing how a system responds to failure conditions, you can identify and fix failures before they become public facing outages. Chaos Engineering lets you validate what you think will happen with what is actually happening in your systems. By performing the smallest possible experiments you can measure, you’re able to “break things on purpose” in order to learn how to build more resilient systems.

Chaos Monkey, monkey-like randomness and mischief and the plastic net that covers grapevines are instances of interventions to prevent the systems and farming from failure, especially from monkey-like, random attacks.  Interventions to bring in behaviour change have a similar effect, prevention from wavering away from the goal.

Our work life is replete with randomness, activities and distractions that derail our performance. Most of these activities are not well defined but are as random and mischief as a monkey that destroys the productivity crop from time to time. Reasons like work overload, fatigue, communication gap with the boss, non clarity in the goal and expectation, non cohesive team etc.  could deviate from active performance. Not just external factors, individual habits and way of thinking can also be a deterrent to optimal performance. These external and internal causes and aberrations can be seen as monkeys attacking the system and can be tackled through interventions. In this Habits for Forward Thinking article, let me bring your attention to psychological interventions that help one achieve goals, personal and professional. 

What are interventions? Psychological interventions are any set of strategies that are used to change behaviors, emotions, or cognitions to produce a personal change leading to higher functional results. 

Interventions in Sports: 

Sports personalities are the ultimate example of human level performances. Here is an excerpt from a research paper of Interventions in Sports performance to help you understand the significance of interventions:  

“Psychological skills training” is a term that “was coined to describe techniques and strategies designed to teach or enhance mental skills that facilitate performance and a positive approach to sport competition”

The paper talks about, ‘When researchers and practitioners are developing psychological skills training interventions it is important that they make a clear distinction between psychological qualities, psychological skills, and psychological strategies. “Psychological qualities” are the characteristics or attributes that facilitate optimal performance, and they can be experienced to varying degrees (e.g., high and low self-confidence; Holland, Woodcock, Cumming, & Duda, 2010). “Psychological skills” involve the ability to regulate psychological qualities, such as the ability to maintain self-confidence (Holland et al., 2010; Vealey, 1988). “Psychological strategies” are the interventions or the methods used to purposefully teach those psychological skills and qualities (e.g., thought control; Vealey, 1988).

The psychological techniques that have been most widely used by sport psychology practitioners, and the focus of most intervention research, are imagery, goal-setting, thought management and self-talk, and physical relaxation.

Interventions in Education: 

Schools, especially ones with a focus on the mental well being of students, have a team of special educators to identify, intervene and nurture students for their optimal performance. Interventions are designed to help students that have a slower learning process than their batchmates. Interventions are also designed to make bright, gifted kids in the class to outperform his or her own achievements. Interventions are not necessarily only meant for corrections in behaviour, they are also designed to bring enhancement in performance. 

Interventions in Worklife:

Interventions, as the name suggests, is a set of sequenced and planned actions or events intended to help the organization exercise its effectiveness. Intervention purposely disrupt the status quo. As quoted in a note from McKinsey, “Many L&D functions embrace a framework known as “70:20:10,” in which 70 percent of learning takes place on the job, 20 percent through interaction and collaboration, and 10 percent through formal-learning interventions. These percentages are general guidelines and vary by industry and organization. Today, L&D leaders must design and implement interventions that support informal learning, including coaching and mentoring, on-the-job instruction, apprenticeships, leadership shadowing, action-based learning, on-demand access to digital learning, and lunch-and-learn sessions. Social technologies play a growing role in connecting experts and creating and sharing knowledge.”

 At corporate levels, interventions can be designed to work at the organization level for example- declaring a 3 day long weekend to battle fatigue of the organisation or interventions can be personalised at an individual level like a planned conversation session between two people affecting each other’s performance in a negative way. To adopt diversity and inclusion, L&D teams are strategizing interventions to bring required behaviour change at a cultural level. 

Interventions need not be addressed only by psychologists. Team leaders, managers, human resources team, anyone willing to understand the problem can identify the need for intervention. You and I, any individual, if feeling stuck in a situation can look for intervention as a measure to step out. 

There is a word of caution. Too much intervention or bad timing or a bad strategy of intervention can be harmful. In such cases, one must remember, sometimes doing nothing is an intervention too. There is a word for overdose of intervention- iatrogenics– when a treatment causes more harm than benefit. As iatros means healer in Greek, the word means “caused by the healer” or “brought by the healer.”  Healer, in this sense, need not mean doctor, but anyone intervening to solve a problem.

It is in human nature to react to a situation and take action. If the net outcome result of intervening is negative, then one must refrain from intervening. Doing nothing in some cases to keep a net positive result is an intervention too. At the same time, too much intervention is almost like putting a thick black cover instead of a net to protect the grape farms from monkeys. Thick cover will stunt the growth by stopping sunlight and air and thus kill the plants, so does wrong intervention strategy.  

Planning and designing interventions are like preparing to manage monkey menace. Some are small, some are big, some come as individuals and some come as barrels. Interventions, like the net, or chaos monkey of Netflix, prepare to become resilient and let the growth prosper, before the menace becomes the outage. 

It is not a monkey business to manage monkey menace.


Habits for Forward Thinking is your place to grow. Read more here.

Your growth is in your hands, err minds

Decoding Design Thinking, Stephen Covey habits, Atomic habits and Habits for Thinking

“Oh, she has a mind too!” This is a comment hard to understand by the new age workers in the new age companies like startups and technology driven ventures. I still feel offended about it. It was nearly eight years into my work life then, not too many years, but considered young for a role designated as Director – Strategy and Marketing. I was young, much younger to the lady in conversation. She headed an outdoor advertising agency and had proposed an alliance concept to our company. In one of the meetings, where I joined the Managing Director’s office midway into the conversation, I must have made some comments. I don’t remember what she had proposed, I don’t remember what were my comments, but memory is weird, I remember the sofa she sat in, the angle her body was tilted to and obviously her sarcastic tone that said, ‘she has a mind too’. And, my boss had smiled, “Yes, she has a mind.”  I don’t know if his smile had a hint of pride, ultimately he had appointed me.

Having a mind, a working mind, was a matter of surprise. Having a mind means clarity of thought, the ability to simplify decision making matrices, having a mind means creative thinking, having the ability to handle people and comments without losing focus. In 2008, when this comment had happened, younger people were viewed as interns, novice at workplaces.  Now, younger people are the ones seen with the knowledge. Nobody passes such comments anymore. Senior people, with years of experience, accept the younger generations’ mindful approach sometimes easily, sometimes with a pinch of salt. This is not because they do not know, this is because they lag the pace of the technological growth that their mind has been challenged to. 

Let me ask you a question. How do you measure your growth in work life? Designation at work, salary raise every year, bonuses, etc.? It is ironic, the higher up  you reach in your organisation, the fewer options are available to you to grow. 

Goodhart’s law says “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.” 

It is wise to remember this law when you reflect on your growth in work life, it is even wiser to reflect  on how your mind is growing with the changing world. 

So in today’s Habits for Thinking, I want to bring your attention to your own growth. And, to the fact that your growth is driven by your habits. The ability to learn, unlearn, embrace failure and success with the same feeling are all a part of the ability to develop a growth mindset.

To illustrate, the feeling of what you miss, like the one mentioned in the above tweet, here is a description of what are the qualities that a Stripe Manager is looking into while hiring product managers:

“We want technical product managers, strong product instincts, lead by influence, channel multiple points of view. At Stripe, we look for not just smart people but quick people. You will do well if you’re very, very agile. Being able to ingest a lot of complexity and then find a path of clarity through that. Quick-thinking, quick-acting people do really well here. We also want people who will not be held back by a lack of somebody handing them a checklist of all the steps to go through. Being able to thrive in ambiguity. You may have something in mind, but you go talk to customers and learn something totally different. People who are fluid with that will do very well.”

The business expects quick thinkers, doers, playful with ideas etc. This can only be achieved when the business leaders and people think of their own growth. Growth will come from developing the right habits. When you have nurtured habits to become an innovative thinker, problem solver, decision maker, you become a quick thinker too.

L&D (Learning and Development)teams across organisations focus on getting training that serves an immediate need like customer service, team building, leadership needs etc. To develop agile mindsets of people is not a focus yet across most organisations. The mindset shift is a continuous process through habits and ideas. Here are three popular and a baby new concepts that work on habits and ideas and growth thinking. 

This week, on habits for thinking, think about your own growth. 

1. Design Thinking:

Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.

—TIM BROWN, EXECUTIVE CHAIR OF IDEO

Design Thinking is a process for innovation of products or services. There are dedicated teams in corporate culture designated to run the process. But, the beauty of design thinking is the ability to develop a mindset for empathy, team brainstorming, problem solving etc. 

Note: If your organisation has a Design Thinking team, ask your L&D team to get you to learn from them.The process will introduce you to a lot of new ways of thinking. 

2. Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:

You may have read his book, his writing,workshops etc. Here are the seven habits for a quick reference:

  1. Be Proactive
  2. Begin with the End in Mind
  3. Put First Things First
  4. Think Win-Win
  5. Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
  6. Synergize
  7. Sharpen the Saw

The last habit in the list encourages continuous improvement and renewal professionally and personally. Sharpen the Saw means preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have–you. It means having a balanced program for self-renewal in the four areas of your life: physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual. Here are some examples of activities:

Physical:Beneficial eating, exercising, and resting
Social/Emotional:Making social and meaningful connections with others
Mental:Learning, reading, writing, and teaching
Spiritual:Spending time in nature, expanding spiritual self through meditation, music, art, or service
From https://www.franklincovey.com/habit-7/

3. Atomic Habits by James Clear: 

I haven’t read the book Atomic Habits, Here is the latest review from a reader taken from Atomic Habits website: Three major takeaways from this  book are:

  • An atomic habit is a regular practice or routine that is small and easy to do and is also the source of incredible power; a component of the system of compound growth.
  • Bad habits repeat themselves again and again not because you don’t want to change, but because you have the wrong system for change.
  • Changes that seem small and unimportant at first will compound into remarkable results if you’re willing to stick with them for years.

4. SHIFT: Simple Habits & Ideas for Forward Thinking

I have referred to my extensive experience, my Design Thinking skills and my learnings through research, reading and observations to author SHIFT. A collection of fifteen habits and ideas, SHIFT is designed to develop a growth mindset. It keeps you at the centre with the work process on one side and your own learning from people and communities around you on the other side. Each habit is continuously sharpening the saw. 

Simplicity is the key because habits need to become a part of life, habits to make your work process better, habits to channelise your creative energies, habits to develop new ideas and habits to make decisions. If one thinks that one knows it all, try this one: Improve

Growth

The idea is not to plug in the course here, the idea is to make you realise that you are a sum of your choices and habits. While Design Thinking gives you ideas, Stephen Covey urges you to sharpen the saw, Atomic Habits shows you the path on how to adopt it, SHIFT suggests which ones to take up and how it will impact. 

Measure your personal growth with the right yardstick, or someone will comment, “Do you have a mind?”

The career downhill is certain. Are you ready?

She messaged me to inquire about my background and on what basis I pick up articles for teenagers to read every week. Week after week, for nearly four years, I have been curating articles for parents to read it out to their children. Now called The Read Aloud Club, in the first two years, it was just a nameless circulation of a set of article links. So when asked about my background for selecting articles, I didn’t know if I should reply as a mother of two or author of Habits for Thinking or a design thinking professional or mention my past corporate life. No one had ever asked me about my authority to select articles. Being questioned about my background stumped me for a minute. 

She had the right. Being a teacher in her professional life some years ago, she took her role of grand-parenting with conscious efforts. Parents and grandparents are gatekeepers for their children. Interested in the idea of the Read Aloud Club for her grandchild, she wanted to know the background of the curator. In my reply, I showed her the work. It doesn’t matter to talk about other things to support your work when your work can talk the loudest. There were plenty of editions for her to refer to. Later, we spoke. She signed up. Her happiness reflected in her messages to me. She shared pictures of her grandchildren, her family and how this gift was precious. And, one comment that stayed with me was that I should share these articles with other grandparents. It will be useful for people of her age to find talking points with their grandchildren.The word useful lingered in my mind even longer. 

The conversation took me to life after retirement, the life after years of work, money, fame and recognition. Not only retirement, but life after seeing a peak in your career, the life on the other side of the hill. The thought took me to a few lines I had read in an article, “Whole sections of bookstores are dedicated to becoming successful. The shelves are packed with titles like The Science of Getting Rich and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. There is no section marked “Managing Your Professional Decline.” 

The article, titled your professional decline is coming much sooner than you think, mentions the whole thought process that is required to change when you have peaked at an early career. Downhill not only is inevitable but also happens earlier than most of us expect, what should we do when it comes for us?

In today’s Habits for Thinking, I am bringing your attention to when the expected, i.e. the career downhill comes unexpectedly. I would neither call it a decline, nor a retirement, but a downward slide that one can be prepared for. Let us treat it as the downhill after a peak – it could be a peak in the career, like a high profile position at a young age, or leaving a leadership position due to loss of work or  a successful buyout of your venture or actually retirement. Athletes peak and retire from their profession at an early age. Peaking in a career can be at any time, but what happens when the hill is a downslide. How do you manage the ride? 

1. Peak and career downhill are not age related:

An excerpt from the write up suggests: Entrepreneurs peak and decline earlier, on an average. After earning fame and fortune in their 20s, many tech entrepreneurs are in creative decline by age 30. In 2014, the Harvard Business Review reported that founders of enterprises valued at $1 billion or more by venture capitalists tend to cluster in the 20-to-34 age range. Subsequent research has found that the clustering might be slightly later, but all studies in this area have found that the majority of successful start-ups have founders under age 50. 

While this is true, what is also true is that some people, who are in the business of compounding efforts see success at an age which is much later than sixties. 99% of Warren Buffett’s net worth came after his 50th birthday, and 97% came after he turned 65.1

The father of management thinking, Peter Drucker has written many books; 2/3rd of his writing was after the age of 65. Jim Collins, who had Peter Drucker as his mentor, mentions in The Tim Ferris Show podcast,  “The shelf was all of Peter’s books put out chronologically based on when he wrote them, first editions. And I said, “Where on the shelf is he aged 65?” And the answer was, when you pointed to it, 1/3 of the way across the shelf.” 

So one peak at a relatively young age, whether as the CEO of a company or an entrepreneur, does not preclude you from  high professional achievements later on in life. 

2. The life after peak can be another peak, a different one

Charles Darwin was just 22 when he set out on his five-year voyage. Darwin took enormous pride in sitting atop the celebrity-scientist pecking order, developing his theories and publishing them as books and essays—the most famous being on the Origin of Species, in 1859. But as Darwin progressed into his 50s, he stagnated; he hit a wall in his research. 

Johann Sebastian Bach, born in 1685 distinguished himself as a musical genius. Early in his career, Bach was considered an astoundingly gifted organist and improviser. Commissions rolled in; royalty sought him out; young composers emulated his style. He enjoyed real prestige. But it didn’t last—his career was overtaken by musical trends ushered in by, among others, his own son, Carl Philipp Emanuel.

What’s the difference between Bach and Darwin? Both were preternaturally gifted and widely known early in life. Both attained permanent fame posthumously. Where they differed was in their approach to the midlife fade. When Darwin fell behind as an innovator, he became despondent and depressed; his life ended in sad inactivity. When Bach fell behind, he reinvented himself as a master instructor. He died beloved, fulfilled, and—though less famous than he once had been—respected.

While Darwin stayed attached to his prestige at peak, Bach worked around that status and found a new way of meaningful work, teaching. 

3. Being useful is the mantra

The trend of professional decline is also accelerating. Firstly, democratisation of knowledge means many skills can be acquired across age groups. A teenager can make an electronic device like a graduate. Secondly, technological advancement means dependency on people is going to reduce. All of this is nothing new. This has been in the making. Not just people, a whole set of businesses are wiped out by a newer age company. The transition period of change from one cyclical change to another is reducing. So yes, the professional decline, or what looks like a peak today, may lead to a downhill slope tomorrow. 

To prepare for it, there is only one thought that needs to be nurtured. It is a human need to remain meaningfully engaged. The engagement comes from work place, relationships, interactions. A sense of growth, not just financially but emotionally and in knowledge keeps the mental energy intact. When Jim Collins, author of several books, was considering leaving his day job to become an entrepreneur he asked Peter Drucker for advice2.

Drucker replied, “It seems to me you spend a lot of time trying — worrying about if you’re going to survive. Well, you’ll probably survive. And you spend too much time thinking about if you’ll be successful. It’s the wrong question. The question is, “how to be useful?” 

Everyone will face the career downhill at some point in their work life. That is a given. People with a growth mindset will find ways to remain engaged mentally and will find ways to remain useful. People attached to the prestige of the previous peak will find it hard to move forward. 

The grandmother, a retired teacher, can identify this need for ‘being useful’ in her circle of influence. She knows, there is a peak after the peak. 

  1. https://www.collaborativefund.com/blog/standing/
  2. The Time Ferris Show

2 secrets to improve your deliberate practice

A shoulder pain woke me up from months of sleeping. It had been months since lockdown, workouts had shifted inside the living room instead of the gym, the trainer appeared more on mobile screens than in person and I spent more on computer and phone screens than on yoga mats. A nagging pain in my shoulder took me to a physiotherapist. The first session didn’t seem so alarming but right after that session, during my fitness practice at home, I developed a muscle pull in the neck. The physiotherapist advised rest and called me after two days. On my second trip to the hospital, my neck and shoulders were taped with adhesive medical tapes restricting most of my movements. This was still easy and I thought I would be out of this phase within a few days. I was wrong. My neck, shoulder and back had developed stiffness over months of lockdown. It required a couple of months of therapy including many painful needle processes of breaking knots in my muscles that left me immobile at times and in pain. Today I can laugh, my own workouts had become a pain in my neck, literally and figuratively. The numbness of pain woke me up from my sleep. I have been sleeping about my fitness levels all these months, even though I was working out regularly. Lockdown needed me to pay more attention myself and not be dependent on anyone else for improvement. I had lost the alertness towards that and while I was regular, it was not enough. 

We do not focus on everything in life with the same alertness, especially when it becomes a habit. Workout has been a habit for years, thrice a week in the gym, same trainer,being regular became the only yardstick  rather than the form of the body. Sometimes we go into a slumber, even with the best of the habit. That’s what happened to me with my regular workout habit. I had lost focus from a key habit in my workout- ‘improve.’

In today’s Habits for Thinking, I am bringing your attention to a hard habit : the habit to improve. It is easier to pick up a new habit than to improve a good existing habit. That is why it is hard. 

Lack of awareness keeps you from improving:

In the course SHIFT, there are fifteen habits designed to nurture a growth mindset that is alert, creative and confident. ‘To improve’ is one of the fifteen habits. I wrote about the invisibility and shared responsibility about this habit in an article a few weeks ago. What keeps us from improving? One of the reasons is lack of awareness. Lack of awareness is about two types- firstly, one may not know which part of the habit needs to be improved. Secondly, one may not know how to improve. Both these issues stop us from growing further. But the two secret lines that push one to work on improvement are mentioned below: 

Secret 1: The enemy of great is good. 

What is the enemy of the Great? The good. Yes, good is something that really lets you stay where you are. It becomes the roadblock to being great. A good success makes us settle in comfortably, creating inertia to move towards a great success. A great success is achieved with the mindset. The mindset difference is growth vs fixed mindset which we have talked about in detail in earlier post here. 

deliberate practice

The backbone of a growth mindset is the feedback loop.  The feedback tells you where to improve. It helps you understand the details of the situation. And, you single out one focus area at a time and work on improvement. A growth mindset not only doesn’t shy away from feedback, it actively seeks feedback in its work.

This is what separates great athletes from good athletes. This is one reason why great companies have managers with better performance than good companies. The margin between good and great is very thin and is achieved only through continuous improvement. And, continuous improvement can be achieved through deliberate practice. 

Deliberate practice:

Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers From Everybody Else. Author Geoff Colvin, wrote: 

Deliberate practice is characterized by several elements, each worth examining. It is activity designed specifically to improve performance, often with a teacher’s help; it can be repeated a lot; feedback on results is continuously available; it’s highly demanding mentally, whether the activity is purely intellectual, such as chess or business-related activities, or heavily physical, such as sports; and it isn’t much fun.

G. Colvin

K. Anders Ericsson, the Swedish psychologist and researcher is best known for coining the term “deliberate practice” as the secret of how people can improve their skills. After decades of studying how superstars are made, Ericsson said the reason why his work has captured the public’s attention in recent years is simple: “A lot of people want to be the very best they can be. The deliberate practice notion has kind of opened up the possibility that people can achieve higher levels of performance than they previously thought possible.”

Deliberate practice is a structured approach with a goal to improve performance. Deliberate practice involves trying to exceed one’s previous limits, which requires full concentration and effort. Consequently, it is only possible to engage in these activities for a limited amount of time until rest and recuperation are needed.

Musicians have been encouraged to practice two hours of playing the instrument with full concentration than practice four hours without the concentration. Because  deliberate practice involves being mindful, it is really hard to practice it for long duration. A writer’s commitment to writing two hours mindfully in the morning results in greater work than writing longer hours with much attention throughout the day. 

Coach or no coach, a deliberate practice is an effort of breaking down the goal into smaller areas, identifying weak points and practising with specific aim for improvement of the weak points. For example, stability is a key form for any athlete. But many good athletes, despite being in the top few in their respective category, may not have worked on stability alone. Deliberate practice means focussing on one area of performance, like stability, and improving overall performance through that. 

Deliberate practice is not only a part of athletic performance. It applies to all types of activities.

Secret 2: The power of 1% gain everyday

The beauty of improvement is it is a one way path, it only goes up, it only gets better. However, the challenge in improving is that the gain is so small that it doesn’t motivate further to continue. It is a small, imperceptible gain in most cases, tough to measure and even tougher to fuel growth. However, one should remember that a 1% gain everyday means a 37times gain in a year. If you had Rs. 100 and you gain 1% everyday, it will lead you to Rs.3770 at the end of the year. That is the value of small gains. 

The recipe to bring in deliberate practice in your life:

Step 1: Meta cognition: Thinking about thinking and learning: identify what you want to improve

Step 2: Set small goals

Step 3: Maintain a log, only you can see the improvement. 

Step 4: Create a loop: feedback to yourself, replan, refocus

Step 5: remember 1% improvement is an improvement. 

Now, let us see how it can be actually practiced. For instance, distraction is a major challenge to our concentration and efforts. If one has to improve their productivity, how about setting up a goal of working without any distraction? 

Step 1: Meta Cognition: thinking about distractions while working

Step 2: Set small goal: work thirty minutes without switching to any other tab on computer

Step 3: Maintain a daily journal. 

Step 4: Increase the time gradually. Practice till you stabilise at the new time. 

Step 5: Remember 1% improvement compounds over time. 

Habits require attention and improvement. This can be achieved only with mindful, deliberate practice. One can identify and improve any activity whether it is writing, strategising, playing music, swimming, or even workouts like mine. The secret sauce is to remember two lines: firstly, the enemy of good is great and secondly 1% gain everyday is powerful.

Three Mandatory Lego Lessons To Keep Entropy In check

She barged into the room screaming entropy, entropy! What my 8 year old niece meant was the lego chaos her toddler brother had created in the other room. The niece, in trying to prove herself very smart, like most children do, was showing off what some of us had earlier in the day discussed about physics and the second law of thermodynamics. Her takeaway was a new word for chaos and that is entropy. 

Children have the ability to simplify things in just one stroke. Probably because their mind is less cluttered and they have more actionable energy than any of us adults who have multiple things in our minds filling up garbage bags of chaos and clutter. 

A quick glance on notes from my previous article: 

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. 


“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.”


I don’t like the word entropy. I don’t like the sound of it, especially the fact that it has a negative meaning attached to it. The mark of a disorder. If you say chaos or disorder, it rings the bell of chaos but when you say entropy, even if it is ages old, you do not grasp it immediately. Imagine screaming in a boardroom meeting, the reason for failure of a project is entropy. Who would relate to it? Very few or may be none. Now you know why I do not like the way this word is in our lives. 

Entropy is the elephant in the room, the problem that exists but is not acknowledged or is ignored. We learnt in the previous article that the three principles regarding entropy to remember are 

i) Entropy is the default state 

ii)It tends to increase when the system is closed and 

iii) Higher the entropy in a system, more the energy needed to be efficient. Imagine more Lego chaos and more time to clean up.

In today’s Habits for Thinking, I am bringing your attention to Lego and lessons it showcases to keep entropy in check. 

Lego is a brand name for small building blocks that come in various shapes and sizes. For toddlers, it makes larger blocks and for older children and adults it gets into smaller, specific details including mindstorms that are programmable robotics constructions.  Possibilities are unlimited and so are the types of lego bricks that a child can possess. Even a small collection of a few lego models is big enough to bring a room in disorder, just like entropy.

Our lives are like that. Small pieces of building blocks that come together and make a nice picture. Relationships, work, purpose etc are the building blocks for the mind while food, sleep, exercise are the building blocks for the body. Like Lego blocks, they manage to sit together to create a unified model. You remove one or two pieces and there is a disorder in the system. You scatter them all, like a room full of building blocks, and wish you could scream entropy, entropy. There is only one difference, when Lego blocks are scattered and create a mess, they can be brought together and fixed to another model. In life, when the entropy or the disorder increases, there may not be any turning back. 

Secondly, the more the number of Lego blocks, the more disorder it can create and it will require more energy to put it together. It happens in large organisations, to keep the organization’s efficiency, there are several processes designed. Just tackling the processes can increase a delay in decision making thus leading to disorder. Large organisations also tend to cater more to internal processes by which they move towards a closed system. And, like in any closed system the entropy increases slowing the organisation down. 

But, Lego bricks and building blocks have magical power. These bring an excitement in the environment. Bright and colorful they fuel imagination and dreams. There are lessons to learn from these building blocks. In today’s Habits for Thinking, we are picking up some lessons that will help us keep entropy in check. 

1. It starts with a goal:

Have you ever played with a box of lego building blocks? While you can use lego bricks independently, they are sold as a collection of blocks to make a car, a tower, a city etc. So when the child starts making it, he or she already has a goal in the mind. If we take this approach towards handling entropy, it will help in keeping it contained. Like, if you want a stable relationship with your partner, then you need to be conscious for it to be successful. If two partners are very stable but barely communicate, they are passive in their state of being in the relationship. This passive state can cause disorder too. So you know, to keep a happy, active relationship you need to communicate and give attention to the relationship. It is easier to associate a goal or success factor in relationships but difficult to see it in a project. 

#ideastoaction: Start with a vision of success and work accordingly. It will keep entropy in check. 

2.Building blocks have multiple roles: 

That is the beauty of Lego bricks. The blocks are designed in such a manner that you can use Lego bricks in many different ways and in many models. These are not unique to only one design. Our life’s building blocks are like that too. A colleague at work is going through a rough patch and you take him out for a meal and talk it out. You have merged your own building blocks of food, work, relationships. Lego teaches us that. To merge, to interuse, to be constructive before entropy goes beyond control. 

It works with self-growth too. Researchers and psychologists have identified correlation between entropy and mental health. As entropy increases in the mind, so does the disorder in life. One way to tackle this is to build several mental models. A closed mind has increased level of entropy and therefore lesser ability to make decisions, a growth mindset or an open mind to ideas have a better decision making mindset. This is due to the fact that the growth mindset learns several mental models. These mental models, like Lego blocks, are interchangeable, used in multiple ways thus keeping an active mind.  Steve Jobs gave a famous term to this concept – ‘connect the dots.’ You learn a mental model at work and you apply in your personal life. That’s the magic, like Lego blocks. You can be a free learner or you can use frameworks from courses to learn. Like you can build a model on your own or you can build a colosseum that Lego provides. 

#ideastoaction: Mental models work as building blocks. Practice a growth mindset, learn mental models and keep entropy in check. 

3.Collaboration helps:

Lego is more fun if you do it with others, friends, siblings. Keeping entropy at lower, manageable levels is not a fun thing to do. As discussed earlier, it is the elephant in the room. It is easier to address the elephant if you have more people on your side. Large organisations create teams to address this need. Still, there are processes that bind all teams back into a large one- making a big room full of Lego blocks. That’s why startups are agile. They are the small rooms of fewer Lego blocks. 

Chief Entropy Minimiser

If there was a job like Chief Entropy Minimiser, his job description would be to paint the vision of success or goals before the onset of projects, lead teams to use interchangeable  mental models and collaborate with other entropy minimisers to keep an agile, constructive, venture. Collaborate, make others responsible too to keep the company agile. 

#ideastoaction: Make others conscious of entropy and the impact. Work together to keep entropy in check. 

The name ‘LEGO‘ is an abbreviation of the two Danish words “leg godt,” meaning “play well”. Entropy is the default state of life. At work, at life. Just Lego it. Just PLAY WELL!