Why you must not call yourself an expert?

Q. On an American $100 bill, there is a portrait of which American statesman?

  1.  George Washington
  2.  Benjamin Franklin
  3.  Franklin Roosevelt
  4.  Abraham Lincoln

The answer is 2. You may know the answer but Jamal, the protagonist in the movie, Slumdog Millionaire had to revisit his childhood experience to dig for that answer. Jamal, a poor child, in the film had received a 100$bill as a tip. In the movie, Jamal is sitting in a live quiz studio where he stands chances to earn a million dollars. He has to answer all questions correctly. Uneducated, orphaned, spent childhood as a beggar, it is tough, nearly impossible for Jamal to be equipped with the knowledge. When the question is asked to him, he drifts back to a childhood event where he meets his beggar friend in an underground passage. The friend has been blinded and is singing to earn money through begging. Jamal recognizes him as his earlier camp mate, feels connected and hands him over the dollar note. The blind boy asks Jamal to describe the picture on the note. As Jamal describes, the boy answers Benjamin Franklin. And, back in the studio, in the present, Jamal gets the answer correct on the quiz show. 

Q. The other question that Jamal faces is Cambridge Circus is in which U.K. city?

  1.  Oxford
  2.  Leeds
  3.  Cambridge
  4.  London

Jamal had worked in a call centre and he had learnt about Cambridge Circus there. So it was easy for him to recall confidently. But how does he know the next question: 

Q. Who invented the first commercially-successful revolver?

  1.  Thomas Edison
  2.  Oliver Winchester
  3.  Samuel Colt
  4.  Daniel Wesson

A troubled childhood in slums had made Jamal face tough situations including facing a revolver that his brother had once managed to use to save themselves from goons. That is how he knew about Colt, the name on the revolver. 

That is a world of fiction. Where the slum boy becomes a millionaire by answering questions that he has experienced in his life. We may not win hot seats on quiz game shows and bring in experience to answer questions, but we do dig in to our experiences to sometimes solve problems at our end.  This is called adaptive expertise.  

Adaptive expertise is the ability to apply knowledge effectively to novel problems or atypical cases to find solutions. Adaptive experts are characterised as being capable of drawing on their knowledge to invent new procedures for solving unique or fresh problems, rather than simply applying already mastered procedures.

Hatano and Inagaki (1986) first coined the term “adaptive expertise”. They defined two types of expertise- routine and adaptive expertise. A routine expertise is mastering procedures to become highly efficient and accurate. Adaptive expertise involves the ability to understand a new problem with a new solution and even design new procedures. To explain in a simple way imagine two cooks in a house. One is a young lady who has learnt Japanese cooking and can roll the perfect sushi and second person is her mother who has cooked and served for years. They receive a guest at home and the young chef wonders how to serve food with limited ingredients while the mother calmly mixes up a few things and is able to serve some fusion food. The young lady is a routine expert while the elderly is an adaptive expert. 

Adaptive experts adapt and overcome uncertainty by displaying high levels of performance, while routine experts struggle with novel problems. Both types of expertise comprise the same extent of domain knowledge and the ability to perform flawlessly in familiar situations. However, the difference becomes apparent once confronted with an unfamiliar circumstance: a situation in which the task, method or desired results are not known in advance.

Research studies have shown that adaptive experts are aware of the principles behind the process and they invest in learning not just what and how but also the why of a situation. 

In today’s Habits for Thinking, it is important to understand the strengths of being an adaptive expert. Driven by technology adoption by end users and technological advancement in work processes, the business behaviour changes rapidly. The only certainty that exists now is the uncertainty around the world. Last time uncertainty in businesses came from unexpected quarters of pandemic, but other than pandemic, there are several reasons for shaking stability. It becomes imperative to understand that adaptive expertise helps to navigate through uncertainty. 

Jamal, in the movie, had his troubled childhood to refer to while adapting to the circumstances. We have the understanding of knowledge and how to hone the expertise. It comes with practice in the routine. 

According to John D. Bransford, an emeritus professor of education at Washington University, “Adaptive expertise involves habits of mind, attitudes, and ways of thinking and organizing one’s knowledge that are different from routine expertise and that take time to develop.” While routine experts possess strong procedural knowledge, adaptive experts are likewise endowed with a strong conceptual knowledge base, allowing them to utilize their understanding to adapt previous mental models and frameworks to new situations.

Schwartz, Bransford and Sears, researchers, have graphically illustrated these two dimensions of expertise. On the horizontal axis, they plot efficiency of problem solving, and on the vertical axis they plot ability to innovate. In this graph, they identify four important regions: Novice (low efficiency, low innovation), Routine Expert (high efficiency, low innovation), Frustrated or Annoying Novice (low efficiency and high innovation), and Adaptive Expert (high efficiency and high innovation). They suggest that one should aim for a balance between innovation and efficiency. 

Adaptive expertise can be developed and practiced

This year, during the pandemic, people including routine experts have been thrown out of their gear. Educators, medical professionals who have been experts in their fields, had to deal with a new way of delivering their duties. The journey of becoming adaptive expertise begins with thinking about thinking – called Metacognition. 

Adaptive expertise is honed not by training skills but by training of thinking. Metacognitive means understanding processes and strategies on how we learn plays a role in making one an adaptive expert. Learning style assessments, self-questioning, working in collaboration and thinking aloud are ways of metacognitive learning strategies. 

Jamal won the show in Slumdog Millionaire by demonstrating adaptive expertise. Our guiding principle needs to be:

  1. Think about thinking and our learning style – to be metacognitive is the first step. 
  2. Refer to mental models, develop knowledge in other domains to enhance critical thinking and innovative thinking. – these are ongoing learning steps. For example, learning about inversion thinking and applying it to your decision making is honing adaptive expertise. 
  3. Collaborate with others to listen to thoughts and ideas. Listening makes one reflect on our own thoughts and ideas. 

Adpative Expertise in practice for doctors

In the field of medical practice, there is ongoing work of helping doctors turn into adaptive experts, as they have been facing unique cases due to pandemic. The Master Adaptive Learner is a guide for how to train and teach doctors and clinicians to develop adaptive skills. The guide has these phases as steps to follow:

  1. Planning: The learner identifies a knowledge gap without which she would not be able to begin learning solutions.
  2. Learning: The learner must first appraise the resources she found—are they the right solutions to the problem?—then go about digesting the information so it sticks.
  3. Assessing: A combination of self-assessment and external feedback in which the learner determines if her findings would require her to change her practice.
  4. Adjusting: The learner applies any necessary changes to her practice while determining the scope and scale at which they should be implemented.

It is not just about being an expert, it is about being an adaptive expert. So before you call yourself an expert, think are you a routine expert or an adaptive expert? And, remember adaptive expertise is an ongoing process. 


Adaptive expertise can be hone through adopting habits that shape up our thinking. The course SHIFT – Simple Habits and Ideas For Forward Thinking enables you to become an adaptive expert by practicing certain habits and ideas.

The Read Aloud Club that I run, curates three to four articles every week. These articles are from various internet sites like the New York Times, The Guardian, Indian Express etc and are on the topics of science, technology, innovation, empathy etc. Do you know why I do it? Reading different kinds of pieces develops adaptive expertise. See here about The Read Aloud Club .

The magic of creative confidence

Eighteen minutes. That is all that you get to put across your story. Your life story may be thirty years long or fifty years long, you still get only eighteen minutes as an outer limit to present your story to a room full of people seated in ambient darkness anticipating to get enlightened though your TED talk. 

So when you get eighteen minutes to speak, you don’t tell them what you did when you were five or when you were fifteen, you tell them one slice of that life. Actually, it is not even a slice – it is a sliver of the slice. ‘In fact, some of our greatest TED Talks have been as short as 5 minutes long!’ Says TED Talks website. 

If you were to talk on a TED platform, what would you present? I asked this question to a group of friends last week. An accomplished circle, their bags full of stories but when it comes to sharing one, most had a common answer and that was – ‘Not my cup of tea, I am not so creative.’ The buck stops there. Not creative enough. 

This December, as you await new beginnings, give yourself a promise- a promise to nurture your own creative confidence. This December, as we spread light around us, let us rekindle the light of creativity within.

Creativity is a mindset, not just how we draw or paint or have an eye for art direction. It is how we think and create new ideas and how we find solutions to challenges are also results of creative thinking. What stops us from being creative is not how we have skilled ourselves over the years, but it is how we speak about oneself. Our language becomes the roadblock towards our creative thinking. When we say ‘not creative enough,’ we close all the windows and doors of our mind. 

Creativity, like playing, is equally available to all as a child. You play more and more and maybe  you will grow up as a sports personality. You paint more and more and maybe you will grow up as an artist. Everybody is born with a creative and playful mind. Creativity is not just about painting or being an artist, it is about thinking. Creative thinking gives birth to ideas. And ideas are necessary not only for business, but also important for day to day living. 

While a TED talk is a decent benchmark to introspect for your own creative story, ironically, the most watched TED talk is about how creativity gets killed by education.  

Researchers have defined the construct of creativity as the ability to innovate and move beyond what is already known. This involves the ability to consider things from an uncommon perspective, transcend the old order and explore loosely associated ideas. Creativity can also be defined as the ability to generate a solution to ill-defined problems.

The creative tag is not only useful at workplaces but is also needed in day to day life like as simple as hosting a party or raising a fund for your charity. The creative tag is not to show it to anybody, the creative tag is to nurture our own confidence. The ability to build and hone a creative mindset is not a standalone skill but is the ability to apply several inputs to the way we think and act. Like the ability to be a good leader who is a great collaborator and an empathetic listener, is actually an act of sharpening the creative skills. 

In today’s Habits for Thinking note, we bring the attention to nurturing our own creative confidence. To believe and nurture our creative mindset, it is important to build abilities around certain areas mentioned here: 

  1. The ability to keep a beginners mindset:

“Design thinking uses creative activities to foster collaboration and solve problems in human-centered ways. We adopt a “beginner’s mind,” with the intent to remain open and curious, to assume nothing, and to see ambiguity as an opportunity,” says IDEO founder David Kelley. He emphasises that “creative confidence is the belief that everyone is creative, and that creativity isn’t the ability to draw or compose or sculpt, but a way of understanding the world.”

The ability to take yourself on the path of nurturing your creative confidence is the first step. It is to be determined to make it happen. To nurture the creative confidence one has to believe that we are all born playful and creative and over the years our creativity has been underutilised and now we need to consciously make an effort to hone our creative mindsets. 

  1. The ability to collaborate:

Creativity fosters in an environment. It can flow more easily when you have people to bounce off ideas with. One can collaborate to just hear ideas too. A collaboration can begin by just being a silent fly on the wall in a room of creative people.

  1. The ability to empower:

In a room full of people of different age groups and experiences, a good idea can come from anywhere, only if the team is empowered to share ideas fearlessly. The ability to empower others is the ability to listen to other ideas. The ability to listen seeds your own creative thoughts. 

  1. The ability to get rejected:

A new project needed a name. The team was asked. Out of 12-14 people on the group chat, only two suggested a few names. The fear of your idea getting rejected is the bottleneck in creative thinking. The ability to get rejected is actually a skill. There is no ego here. One must learn that an idea getting rejected doesn’t necessarily mean that the personality is getting rejected, but it is the line of thought. 

But failure is a big word. Before failure, at a granular level, comes the acceptance of being judged and being rejected. In a creative process, one starts from a large pool of ideas. Sometimes a rejected idea strengthens the idea that finally got accepted. That is also important. 

  1. The ability to ask questions and reframe problems: 

Sometimes simply asking a ‘why’ gives us an opportunity to look into the details of the matter. Sometimes reframing a problem and asking it from a different perspective gets us to find a solution. Creative confidence sharpens with the ability to ask questions. Here is more on how to ask the right questions.  

  1. The ability to work in ambiguous situations: 

Not every solution that you come up with shows up a clear path and that is an ability that a creative mindset is willing to work within. To tolerate ambiguity is an ability that is needed to nurture and build creative confidence. 

Keep a beginner’s mindset, collaborate, empower, handle rejections, ask right questions, learn to navigate ambiguity are all work processes that sharpen a creative mindset.  

Here is an excerpt from the book, ‘Creative Confidence’ by Tom Kelly and David Kelley about Steve Jobs: 

Steve Jobs had a deep sense of creative confidence. He believed that you can achieve  audacious goals if you have the courage and perseverance to pursue them. He was famous for his exhortation to “make a dent in the universe,” which he expressed this way in an 1994 interview: 

“The minute that you understand that you can poke life and actually something will… pop out the other side, that you can change it, you can mold it, that may be the most important thing… once you learn that, you will never be the same again. 

He urged, “think differently.”

There is truly magic in nurturing our own creative confidence.

Please pay your complete attention to attention

Hello December!

It is a good feeling to step into December. It has the ability to carry hope and light. 

December, like every year, is the month of looking back and at the same time looking forward. December, unlike every other month, has stayed focused on what it brings to us. This year, every month derailed our line of focus. Our attention shifted from what we called a regular life to keeping ourselves safe. It shifted from growing at the workplace to simply being able to deliver work from home. It shifted from parties, vacations to online celebrations and condolences. It took effort to keep the attention on the broader picture. It took the attention away from our own attention. 

December, brings the entire year in focus. We have the ability to review our highs and lows, love and loss, innovations and misses. In business, we saw new launches, we saw new adoption of old launches, we saw technology becoming seamless. The attention shifted from offline to online. It opened up a whole new world. And sometimes, an unwanted world. 

In China, a company in the business of live streaming is based on fake attention, actually true attention but of fake people, not people, but bots. On a live streaming platform, influencers showcase real time videos of doing activities like cooking, make up, singing for fans and viewers can send them cash gifts or purchase products featured in the videos directly from the stream. 

YY live is a live streaming venture of JOYY, a China based social media firm listed on Nasdaq. Last week, JOYY reported a 36% year-on-year increase in revenue, 390 million global average monthly active users (MAUs) across all platforms, and 92 million average MAUs on its live-streaming services. But a report by Muddy Waters Research, an online research publication that produces due diligence-based reports on publicly traded securities, accused YY Live of extensive fraud, the fraud of using bots instead of people as audience. 

Muddy Waters made a statement that it had been investigating YY Live for a year and stated that “YY Live is about 90% fraudulent.” They said, “it was clear to us from early on that YY Live was almost entirely fake. YY Live is an ecosystem of mirages. Its supposedly high-earning performers in reality take home only a fraction of their reported totals. The purportedly independent channel owners are largely controlled by YY in order to facilitate continuous sham transactions. The legions of benefactor fans are almost entirely bots operating from YY’s internal network (~50% of YY Live gift volume), bots operating from external bot farms, and performers roundtripping gifts to themselves. We conclude that YY Live is ~90% fraudulent.” 

The allegations are unusual in accusing the platform of creating its own fake users. “Technological complexity and minimal human oversight means the ‘attention economy’ is full of virtual eyeballs,” says the Economist.

Back at home, according to the Mumbai Police, rapper Badshah confessed during questioning to having bought fake views for one of his music videos, in a bid to break a world record. He has denied the allegations.

All this attention grabbing attempts means there is a world of people fighting for our attention. Which in turn means, we are left with scattered, divided attention for everybody, including for ourself. 

This December, as we look back in review and look forward in hope, let us keep our focus on one thing in the attention economy- focus on our own attention. In today’s Habits for Thinking, please focus your complete attention to attention.

Satya Nadella spoke at the Future of Work conference last month and made a point. “People are saying, ‘data is the new oil,’ but I fully agree with you that attention is the new oil,” he said. “Data is plentiful. Attention is scarce, and we’ll never get more of it. Thinking about how we focus that correctly, I think, is one of our most significant opportunities.”

Attention is the cognitive process that makes us respond to stimuli around us. 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.”

There are three types of attention that each of us are required to pay attention to: 

  1. Attention to your own thoughts 

Inner focus or attention to our thoughts, is our understanding of our emotional needs, our values, how we make choices and take decisions.The more we understand our values and motivations, the more capacity we have to direct our own attention instead of having it scattered. It also helps us to direct our attention to what truly matters to us most. 

  1. Attention to your work process

There are two areas of attention that one must understand at work. Firstly, the ability to function in a focused manner without any distractions, secondly to have a relaxed attention towards work to avoid tunnel vision. Yes, relaxed attention means that you should not be so focussed in your work that you miss out on the opportunity arising from another direction.  This is especially critical during critical thinking. 

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.”

  1. Attention to your social being

We are a sum of people in our lives. Typically, a mother pays more attention to a child’s needs as her cognitive process is more tuned in with the child, than the father. With training and effort, father pays attention to details too. Parenting is just an example where we are naturally responsible to pay attention. As humans, we have social needs – to work with teams, to enjoy with friends, to be responsible about the family and it is imperative that our mind stays attentive to our own social needs. When we are distracted some of our social attention takes a back seat. While chasing a goal at the workplace, we may miss paying attention to reasons behind a colleague’s poor performance, this may further reduce the entire team’s productivity. Practicing empathy is one way to pay attention to social needs. 

Attention is needed in different styles in different situations. For example, a focussed and sustained attention is needed while doing a  single work for a longer duration of time. The power to disengage our attention from one thing and move it to another is also essential for our well-being. 

What is therefore important is to pay attention to different attention needs. If we do not control how our attention muscles are grown, some bot may start controlling us too. 

And yes, this December, as I am thankful for many learnings throughout the year, I am eternally grateful for your attention. 

attention

Your learning lessons from big, remarkable events

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

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

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

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

Adaptive expertise and the learning ladder: 

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

What is your learning ladder? 

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

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

Applying these learnings in real life: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Observe, Learn, Practice, Assess. 

Special Offer On The Grand Gesture – Your Free Superpower

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Designing Joy

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

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

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

Image courtesy: Reverse Destiny, from Aesthetics of Joy

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

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

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

Some tips to make it successful:

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

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

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

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

3 simple practices will make you nurture a growth mindset

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1.   Accept your imperfections:

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

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

2. Focus on the process

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

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

3. Using “Not Yet”

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

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

Nurture a growth mindset by Vishakha

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

How do you master critical thinking?

Have you seen Bosch, the drama series on Amazon Prime? Last night I was watching the 8th or 9th episode, season four. Detective Bosch’s partner, Edgar takes a split second decision and fires a gunshot at the armed suspect. He hasn’t clearly seen the weapon on the suspect, yet he has made the right move. Bosch says, this was Edgar’s  ‘training kicking in.’ In another instance, Edgar gets shot by a sniper. After the first hit, injured Edgar rolls behind the car. The second bullet hits the bonnet. Bosch reads the crime scene and comments Edgar’s training kicked in!

When something “kicks in” it means that it starts to work. Something that can “kick in” is an instinct, a feeling, or a certain way of thinking. For example, ‘as soon as he heard the gunshot, his military training kicked in and he dropped straight to the ground.’

Critical thinking is a skill, like any other skill that needs training. It is the training and the practice that kicks in at the time of the need. To master critical thinking, you need to follow the training. 

thewoodpeckermethod Axelsmith

In chess, there is a popular book titled The Woodpecker Method. The Woodpecker Method is the name given by Axel Smith to a training system developed by his co-author Hans Tikkanen. After training with his method in 2010, Tikkanen achieved three GM (GrandMaster) norms within a seven-week period. The quick explanation of the Woodpecker Method is that you need to solve a large number of puzzles in a row; then solve the same puzzles again and again, only faster. There is no lazy shortcut to success – hard work is required. But the reward can be re-programming your unconscious mind. Benefits include sharper tactical vision, fewer blunders, better play when in time trouble and improved intuition.

This is how critical thinking works too, practice and sharpen. Critical thinking is a personal skill, it is not a team skill. While, one does problem solving and innovation designs in groups but each one brings a certain set of skill and expertise to the group.

To hone, personal critical thinking skills, we look it through the following framework:

PERSONAL– How might I inculcate habits to sharpen critical thinking skills? 

SOCIAL – How might I pick up ideas from my social life?

PROCESSES– How might I make my work process more efficient? 

Each of these areas, when paid attention to, help in sharpening the skill.

For training, we seek lessons from contextual references around us. We decode it, mostly subconsciously, for our own learning outcomes. To consciously train, here are examples of articles that have been published in the last few weeks. In the table below, you will see how each article falls within this critical thinking framework, the contextual reference and the learning area. The outcome or the learning from each article is detailed on the article pages.

S.noArticle on habitsforthinkingFrameworkContextual referenceLearning Area
1Language in the new normalPersonal- ProcessNew vocabulary after big eventsCommunication skills
2The snake queues & the art of making choicesPersonal _ ProcessSnake queues for liquor shopsPersonal habit
3The four tenets of effective community communicationSocial – ProcessCommunity health safety measuresBehavioural Economics
4
Six reasons why you shouldn’t ignore the power of work from office
Social- PersonalNeed to keep office spaceCommunity
5Tumse Na ho PayegaPersonal- ProcessCovid- 19 Vaccine development plan Pivot/ Innovation
6Today, I am in my 20sPersonal habitCommencement speeches for graduatesPersonal positioning
7Three must know skills for leaders to ask right questionsPersonal – ProcessAsking for help for a job, ask for help if you are mentally illProblem Solving

Here are two examples of articles with learning outcomes.

Events and actions around us are our training modules. When we read an article or a book or listen to a podcast or attend a course, it helps us in seeding new thoughts. Gradually, these lessons kick in at the right time. Next time when you read an article that makes you think, try to answer if it helps you in changing a personal habit, or makes your process more efficient or is it just a social learning lesson to be bookmarked!

Let us be the woodpecker and the training will kick in when it is the right time.

6 reasons why you shouldn’t ignore the power of Work from Office

For ten years, I lived a corporate life. This work from office meant I had a large office to go to, many colleagues to meet and greet everyday and many, many faces to see on my commute. Then, I turned an entrepreneur and hired a small office space. People joined, people left. I had to move to a bigger place, my second office. In this one, we were more organised, had a corner pantry, handmade coffee was served, with Maggi on some days and had tables that were meant only for dining or playing or even sulking. This office was in a nice, small building which made us interact with some other office goers, totally different from our work life. We exchanged glances, exchanged smiles and sometimes even exchanged milk packets. 

After spending ten years in corporate workplaces and nine years of maintaining my own office space and people, I landed up at a ‘work from home’ situation post wrapping up a failed venture. 

Initially, work from home looked hard, almost like a punishment, but there was no way I could afford an office space. Though the truth is, when I look back, I had managed a disciplined routine and ended up designing an unusual service in the space of unused gift items. Yes, though totally unheard of, there is a market which is waiting to be tapped for the gift items that affluent homes receive, but do not end up using. This is for another story at some other time. The point here is WFH is nice in many ways and definitely as productive as an office space, if not more, but it is still not enough. 

Here are SIX reasons why we should not ignore the value of an office space, the value of work from office, even if it means working out from Starbucks.  

O- Office has a landing strip: In my Shopper marketing days, while designing customer experiences, I used to focus on a particular part of the physical space of retail stores called the landing strip. It is the space just inside the door often referred to as the transition zone or ‘the landing strip’. It was first coined by Paco Underhill in his national bestseller, “Why We Buy, The Science Of Shopping.” The space allows shoppers to adjust from the outside noise and settle into a comfort zone of shopping experience.

Similarly, office space gets you a landing strip for you to move away from other things and enter a work zone. This landing strip is not just in the form of a physical space like in retail spaces, but is also a behavioural landing strip like chats around the coffee machine before plugging in the computer. It helps you to align your focus towards work. There is no landing strip at home.   

F- Faces- Familiar, yet unknown faces. Author Kio Stark’s book When Strangers Meet: How People You Don’t Know Can Transform You is about her seven-year personal study of her interactions with strangers in New York City. In a Ted talk about the book, Stark said: “When you talk to strangers, you’re making beautiful interruptions into the expected narrative of your daily life – and theirs.”

It is true, familiar, yet unknown people in our lives add a beautiful layer to daily routine. Co-commuters, elevator operator, people in different office but same complex, regular faces at the coffee shop, the fleeting smiles are all layers that trigger positive emotions. Working from office creates more opportunities to come across familiar strangers.

F – Food: The significance of lunch time: Food during WFH is warm and fabulous but the charm of office lunch break is unmatched and missing. At our office, an hour prior to lunch, one could hear sounds of food planning, where to order from, what’s special on Freshmenu, a food app, the best offer of the day etc. Those conversations are gone. The best things, on some days, would be a special dish from my lunch mate. Fridays have a special place in the books of office lunch. Not just food, the walk after lunch, or the short break, has a special way of recharging the mind and the body like you are back from the intermission in a good movie. 

I- Interactions: Casual interactions-Satya Nadella, spoke to The Times editors on managing through the pandemic and said, “More meetings start and end on time, but “what I miss is when you walk into a physical meeting, you are talking to the person that is next to you, you’re able to connect with them for the two minutes before and after.” 

Another article reads, “But the benefits to office life are more than just social. They are also intellectual. Without offices, we miss out on the chance for serendipitous encounters, and it’s precisely those moments of felicitous engagement that spark the best ideas.”

C- Closure: The closure of a day: Physically leaving the office space has an impact on both productivity and on the biological clock. Even when you close the day during WFH, it is an effort to draw the imaginary line of exit. 

E- Expressions: The missing body language: I had a superior whose cabin had a glass door. Though he was approachable and kept his door always open, sometimes, we would find the door shut for hours. It meant to not discuss anything debatable at that point. Scheduled online meetings may help you express through words, but you totally miss out on the expression of the body language in remote places. When it comes to communication, “you might be saying one or two words, but giving off thousands of nonverbal cues,” says body language expert and author Patti Wood in a TIMES article. These nonverbal cues, which include everything from your posture to your expression, are crucial to any interaction—and it’s especially important to project the correct cues at work, she says.

work from office

A recent poem on #GrandGesture #OfficeSpace on my insta feed