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.
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
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.