Showing posts from 2009

Change and Understanding

To change something one must understand it first. Otherwise, the change would be very temporary.

Problem Sovling Checklist

Charlie Munger, one of my heroes, says that smart people are are often wrong because they don't use checklists for decision making. Here is Munger's checklist for problem solving: 1. Decide the "no-brainer" questions first 2. Apply Numerical fluency 3. Invert (think the problem in reverse) 4. Apply elementary multidisciplinary wisdom, never relying entirely upon others 5. Watch for combination of factors- the Lollapalooza effect Munger defines Lollapalooza as the critical mass obtained via a combination of concentration, curiosity, perseverance, and self-criticism, applied through a prism of multidisciplinary mental models.

Human Potential

Last week, I attended a workshop on Global Human Potential at Esalen . It was an educating workshop taught by three distinguished people: 1) Ralph Abraham : Chaos theory pioneer and mathematician 2) Mary Catherine Bateson : Cultural anthropologist and Margaret Mead's daughter 3) Jean Houston : Philosopher The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know. Following are a few interesting things I learned during the workshop: The teachers are worried about the cultural crises we are in. Humans are facing multiple crises- Identity, Intimacy, Generative, etc. If we don't take an initiative to change things today, the civilization may end in 150 years. Fractals , which are a fascinating phenomenon in nature i.e. a self repeating pattern which creates a shape that is like the self-repeating part, has a philosophical definition as well. In philosophy, fractal is a boundary between two regions. Humans repeat same patterns over and over and these patterns come to define

Happiest Day

People say that their wedding day is the happiest day of their lives. Aren't they implying that it is all downhill after the wedding?

A Logistics Principle

You can not improve something which you can not measure.

Market Segmentation

In most corporations, markets are segmented based on available data and not on buying behavior of consumers.


A man's needs should not be sacred. Many people go into bankruptcy because they think that their needs are sacred and they maintain their lifestyles even when their incomes significantly decline.

Munger on Economy

Charlie Munger, one of my heroes, recently gave an interview on the BBC re why the current financial crises occurred. See the entertaining video at

Life Span

Why do the life spans of species vary drastically- from a few seconds to thousands of years?


Tragedy is the monumental collision of will and destiny. Adapted from writings of Roger Osborne.

Obituary - Russ Ackoff

One of my heroes- Russ Ackoff -passed away last week on October 29th, 2009. He was a brilliant man who I learned Systems Thinking from and his pioneering work in this area did make the world a better place. Dr. Ackoff's ideas are integral in policy making and management and will be with us forever. My condolences to his family and friends.


Everyone has problems.

Fear & Desire

A man with no desires and no fears is a very luck man. Joseph Campbell said that all worry is result of fear and desire.

Calligraphy in China

Calligraphy is considered the highest art form in China. Process is emphasized in Calligraphy, unlike most other art forms. Furthermore, Calligraphy became popular in China after the arrival of Buddhism which helped the Chinese learn about individualism for the very first time. Hence, Calligraphy became a form of self-expression.

Victory and Goodwill

Winning an argument or being proven right at the loss of goodwill is usually not a victory.


Homeless people do not celebrate Halloween.

Zappos - Have Fun, Make Customers Happy, Money Follows

Last month, I attended annual summit which is the biggest gathering of prominent online retailers in the country. Since the event was in Las Vegas, I took the opportunity to visit Zappos headquarters in Henderson, NV for a company tour. Zappos is a fascinating company. It was started in 1999 and booked $1B+ in sales last year. A few months ago, it was acquired by Amazon for ~$940M. The company mainly sells shoes with laser sharp focus on customer service. The company tag line is "Powered by Service". The story is that the Zappos founder, Nick Swinmurn , could not find a pair of shoes he was looking for and there was no online retailer which specialized in wide selection of shoes. So, he started Zappos . Today, Zappos has 4M+ items in its warehouse in Kentucky, 1200 brands and 200,000 styles, and 900,000 UPCs . Zappos is known for wide selection, fast and free delivery, free return shipments, and 365 day return policy. Behind the scenes, there are three m


Anything that can be done, will be done eventually.

Advice on advice

Do not act on advice from experts or from your friends if it does not make sense to you. People give advice based on their past experiences and their view of the world. No one knows your circumstances better than you do. There is an old saying in India, "listen to everyone and do what makes sense to you".

Relative vs Absolute

People tend to misjudge when to think in relative terms and when to think in absolute terms.

Tough times ahead for US Wireless Carriers?

~93% of US population has a cellphone. The US wireless market is getting saturated (in terms of new subscribers). To continue the revenue growth, the Wireless Carriers (WC) have seen in the last few years, the WC will have to find new ways since what was a growth driver-new subscribers- in the past is no longer there. Let's look at a few other reasons and understand why I think that the WC may have tough times ahead of them. 1. Decline in Voice Revenue: WC make most of their money from voice calls. The revenue from voice (per user) has declined in the last few quarters and will continue to decline in the coming years. The product is mature and there are not many ways to differentiate it. There is increased pricing pressure from low-cost carriers like Metro PCS and MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators) like Tracfone. A customer can easily get an unlimited voice minutes (and SMS, and some amount of data) service plan from these low cost carriers for $50 or less with no contract.

Like vs Necessary

People tend to do what they like rather than what is necessary.

Latest Stats from the Wireless World

I attended Mobilize 2009 yesterday. It was an interesting conference and many of the big names in the wireless industry were present. The main trends highlighted at the conference were: Mobile broadband and Smart Phones represent a big opportunity Wireless carriers are updating their networks to handle the mobile data demand which was jump-started with iPhone More Android phones will be launched in the coming months The Mobile Application market will continue to grow Companies are trying to figure out how to make Mobile Advertising work Following are a few stats which were mentioned during the presentations: There will be 1 Billion mobile broadband subscribers by 2013 100k websites are created every 24 hours There are 5 Billion websites today There are 1.6B Internet users today and 98% primarily access it via the PC There are 1.3B fixed/wireline phone lines in the world 210B emails are sent every 24 hours 1B searches are done on Google every day 1B pictures are

What are Complex Systems?

Complex Systems consist of diverse, interdependent, connected, adapting entities. For example, financial markets have diverse banks which are connected and interdependent and they adapt to risk and to each other. Complex Systems (CX) are: 1. Unpredictable 2. Produce large events (wars) 3. Robust (how ecosystems withstand loss of species) 4. Produce bottom-up emergent phenomenon (how a city operates) 5. Produce Novelty/Innovation CX are not Normal i.e. they don't follow the Normal Distribution bell curve . However, they do follow the Power Law . CX exist between order and chaos. It is important to understand CX because the world is becoming more and more complex. It is : 1. More diverse because of more people and species 2. More interdependent because of trade 3. More Connected because of transportation and the Internet 4. More Adapt because of frequent changes in technologies There is a difference in Complex and Complicated. Complicated Systems don't adapt. Emergence happens w

OPEN Brand

I just finished reading OPEN brand which is a book on branding in the age of the Internet. The book offers a lot of common sense using uncommon words. OPEN is an acronym for On-demand, Personal, Engaging, and Networked. The other meaning of OPEN is that companies should open their brands to customers and make them part of the brands. The basic idea of the book is that companies should listen to the customers and use the web and the mobile phones to engage the customers with the brand i.e. focus on Pull Marketing . The companies will have to change how they market to customers now that the customers are connected to each other and can make their voices heard on the web. For a more detailed summary of the book see


The book Outliers by Malcom Gladwell proves with various interesting stories that people become successful by working hard and by being at the right place at the right time. One can increase ones chances of being at the right place at the right time by never stop trying. Your family, society, culture, the time and place of your birth, etc. are all part of being at the right place at the right time.

Warren Buffett and the Business of Life

I just finished listening to an audio book - The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life . It is a biography of Warren Buffet who is one of my heroes . The audio book is 37 hour long and is very addictive. I could not stop listening to the audio book until it was finished. Buffett is an extraordinary human being. One learns a lot from his biography. However, since I usually don't listen to audio books, I don't remember most of what I heard:-) after being in awe for 37 hours. Following are a few random things I remember: 1. Buffett never acquired a company with a hostile takeover. 2. One should always have "margin of safety" when making investments. What that means is that one should not make investments where there is a risk of losing money if things don't go according to the plan. 3. It is not a good idea to be on company boards where one doesn't have any influence on the CEO. 4. Praise the individual and criticize the category. Buffett followed Da


Most humans are slaves to their senses.

Freedom and Responsibility culture

I have written about Netflix before. They are an admirable organization and one of the few which understand Complex Systems . The presentation below describes the Netflix culture. The concepts which are highlighted in the presentation are well-studied in the field of Complex Systems. However, I see them applied in a big public company for the first time at Netflix. It is very exciting! In coming years, we may see more organizations moving to "freedom and responsibility" culture. Culture View more presentations from reed2001 .

Convenience and Conviction

Convenience is addictive. Conviction requires self-discipline.


People who have made big contributions to the world, have done so with their focus on the single objective. They sacrificed or were willing to sacrifice everything else to achieve that single objective. Think about MLK, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, etc. Most people want to do multiple things in life and hence most people do not make extraordinary and big contributions to the world.


I think questions which begin with why and have to do with personal actions put people on the defensive. For example, why did you xxx? When one meets a new person, one should avoid asking personal-action why questions to put people at ease. The psychological reason may be that people don't like explaining their actions. Now, why is that?:-)

Life of Trees

I find trees to be very inspiring. Trees are always in harmony with nature. While they are alive, they give us oxygen, collectively provide habitat to millions of life forms, produce fruits and vegetables, and so on. When they are dead, we use the wood from the trees or they become Nurse Logs which provide growth support to other plants. Humans should aspire to live a life in harmony with nature just like the trees!


The world is not fair but you can be. And, if everyone is fair then the world will become fair.

Simple way to manage Partners/Alliances in business

Over the last few years, I have been fortunate enough to successfully manage various partners/alliances around the world. The success of the organizations, which are partnering or forming an alliance , is interdependent on the participating organizations. Hence, one must think in terms of mutual success. Otherwise, the relationship is not sustainable. I have studied Negotiations at Harvard. However, the most useful thing I found to manage partners is the Rotary's four way test. Here it is: The Four-Way Test In 1932, Rotarian Herbert J. Taylor created The Four-Way Test, a code of ethics adopted by Rotary 11 years later. The test, which has been translated into more than 100 languages, asks the following questions: Of the things we think, say or do Is it the TRUTH? Is it FAIR to all concerned? Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS? Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned? Enjoy and pass the test every day:-)

How to be happy all the time - Chetan Bhagat

Chetan Bhagat , is a novelist based in India. He recently gave a speech to welcome the new students at Symbiosis which is a management school in India. I found the speech very inspiring. Hence, I am sharing it with you. Please find below the text of the speech: --- Good Morning everyone and thank you for giving me this chance to speak to you. This day is about you. You, who have come to this college, leaving the comfort of your homes (or in some cases discomfort), to become something in your life. I am sure you are excited. There are few days in human life when one is truly elated. The first day in college is one of them. When you were getting ready today, you felt a tingling in your stomach. What would the auditorium be like, what would the teachers be like, who are my new classmates - there is so much to be curious about. I call this excitement, the spark within you that makes you feel truly alive today. Today I am going to talk about keeping the spark shining. Or to put it anothe


The rules in big hierarchical organizations apply to people in the middle of the hierarchy. The people at the very top and the very bottom can usually get away with breaking the rules.

Jaywalking vs. jumping a red light

The same people who jaywalk don't jump the red light while driving. Why is that? Is it the conditioning that while driving if you don't follow rules, you get punished and no such conditioning exists for walking? Is it the feeling of responsibility while driving? Is it space? While walking you are in the open and while driving you are inside a small tin box. Is it the herd mentality? I noticed that many people wait to jaywalk until they see someone else doing it.

Inspiration vs. Indulgence

There is fine line between inspiration and indulgence. If one is not careful, what inspires you, can indulge you.

Support Systems

A poem by Natasha Josefowitz: My right hand is being held By someone who knows more than I, And I am learning. My left hand is being held by someone who knows less than I, And I am teaching. Both my hands need thus be held For me--to be. ----- If everyone learns and teaches then the whole society moves up. Keep both your hands held:-) Thanks to my intercultural communication professors - Andy and Donna - for sharing the poem.

From Charlie Munger - Latest Wisdom at WSC 2009 Shareholder Meeting

After attending the Berkshire Hathaway shareholder ( BRKA )meeting last few years, this year I attended WESCO Financial Corporation ( WSC ) 50 th shareholder meeting instead. WSC is run by Charlie Munger who is also vice-chairman of BRKA . After reading a book on Charlie Munger last year, I am fascinated by the man. He has been one of my heroes for a few years and my admiration for him continues to increase as I learn more from him. WSC shareholder meeting is a very different affair than BRKA shareholder meeting. WSC meeting is brief and to the point, just like Munger :-) Following are my notes from the meeting (note the direct communication style of Munger ): Munger started the meeting with answering the questions he had prepared for himself:-) Q1: How serious is the economic mess? A: It is deadly serious. People are extremely disappointed and you can't tell what happens when people are extremely disappointed. Q2: What caused the economic mess? A: Economics is a Complex

Re: Discovery of Music and Visual Arts

I received overwhelming response from people re my previous post Discovery of Music and Visual Arts. All respondents disagree with what I learned from Dennis Russell Davies . Hence, the argument that generally, people fall in love with music "at first sight" does not stand. It is a good idea to validate what one learns from the "experts":-) Thanks for your feedback!

Discovery of Music and Visual Arts

I listened to Liszt's "Dance of Death" live with Marc Andre Hamelin on piano for the first time yesterday at the Seattle Symphony. It was beautiful! In the Q&A session, I learned something very interesting from Dennis Russell Davies. Discovery of music is very different than discovery of visual arts (paintings). When you see new art in a museum, you may or may not like it. However, you can think about what you saw and go back to the museum a few times, look at it again and make up your mind if you really like the painting or not. On the other hand, when you hear new music for the first time - on radio, TV, or at a concert - if you don't like or don't understand it then chances of you thinking about it are very low. It is because you don't know if and when you will hear the music again. In addition, if you did not like the music you would not purchase it. It is possible that you may hear the music again by chance and start liking it enough to purchase it

Twitter Will Make Money

Now that Oprah is on Twitter, millions of others will follow soon. Twitter is an open real time short message service with basic social networking features. Some people also call it micro-blogging. Since it is relatively new, there is no universal way to describe it. For generally accepted definition on Wikipedia, please click here . I think twitter can be bigger than Facebook . Here is why: 1. Accessibility: You can twitter 24/7 since you always have your cell phone with you. To twitter, all you need is a cell phone which can send and receive text messages (sms). 2. 140 character Restriction : Your "tweets" (short messages you post for others to see) have to be limited to 140 characters. This works well with how people communicate these days and, in general, our attention span is declining so people like short messages. 1 Trillion SMS were sent just in the US in 2008. 3. Real time Nature of Tweets : You know what is going on in real time. 4. Transparency : Twee

The Unknown

Why do people settle for known misery over the unknown?

The Obese Brain

Today, we live in a world in which most people in the developed countries have access to the high-speed Internet. Some say that we are living in the information age . The Internet gives us the ability to consume information 24 hours a day. And, this is in addition to TV, radio, print, etc. Just like the body grows with consumption of food, the brain grows with consumption of information. However, not all the information consumed by the brain is healthy, just like all the food we eat is not healthy. Let's go back in time, when the only way to get food was physical labor. There were not many obese people at that time. Today, in many cases, genetics play a role in making people obese. However, the developed world has seen a significant rise in obesity since the industrial revolution. The easy accessibility of food with high fat content and reduction in physical labor have contributed to the rise of obesity. Unlike the body which can not consume unlimited food, the brain can consume

Changing Perspectives

When people like someone they look for similarities with that person. And, when people don't like someone, they look for differences with that person.

Understanding and Communication

When people are insecure and/or do not understand the subject in-depth, they can not describe the subject in discussion in simple language. They use complex language and buzz-words to hide their insecurity and/or lack of understanding.

Next Billion Network

I have been in love with wireless/mobile industry since 1997 . Wireless represents Freedom, Mobility, and Sharing (FMS). These are essential attributes of human progress. And, FMS is becoming increasingly important for technology, business, and economic progress. Finally, there is an organization that has taken on the mission to apply wireless innovations to contribute to the economic growth 0f a billion people in the under-developed countries. The organization is rightfully called- Next Billion Network (NBN). It is an incubation network at MIT Media Lab. NBN is doing amazing work under the leadership of Jhonatan Rotberg who is the founder of NBN. Currently, there are ~3.5B people who use a wireless phone. However, to connect the next billion people, who are very poor, to the benefits of wireless and to the world, we will need very different business models and applications . And, that's the focus of NBN. Last week as part of NBN guest lecturer series, I gave a lectur

Nature of business

In business, everything that makes sense, eventually happens! No matter what the power of incumbents is. Following are a few examples: 1. Mobility makes sense. Hence, we have mobile phones, laptops/netbooks/smartphones, portable gaming gadgets (PSP, DS), etc. 2. High-Speed Internet makes sense. Hence, we have broadband for which the speeds will continue to increase. 3. Web Services/Cloud Computing makes sense. Amazon has taken the lead, others will follow. 4. All IP Network makes sense. All wireless carriers are moving to LTE or WiMax both enable all IP networks. The idea is very similar to evolution in biology. Evolution is a natural phenomenon. No one can stop it.

Growth and Incompetence

When a company is in high-growth phase, its incompetence is ignored. And when the growth slows, the incompetence becomes obvious.

Decision Making Forces

Emotion is a much more powerful force than Rationality in decision making. Hence, the study of economics solely based on the behavior of "rational man" is flawed. Also, when making decisions one should think about how the decision will make people "feel" even if the decision is a perfectly rational one.

Life and Death

The only thing that has probability of 1 (absolutely certain) in life is death. Everything else is uncertain. One should not worry about things which are uncertain. And, worrying about death won't change anything. So, one should enjoy life to the fullest without worrying.

Systems Psychology Principle

If a system can be fooled for personal gain, it will be fooled sooner or later.

Energy is contagious

Live events which bring people together for a common purpose will always be popular irrespective of technological progress.


Usually, beauty brings indulgence and not progress.

Systems Thinking as taught by Ackoff

One of my heroes is Dr. Russell Ackoff . I have read a few books he has written and have learned Systems Thinking from him. I am surprised that the field of Systems Thinking is not well understood. Following is my attempt to share what I learned from one of Ackoff's recent lectures. Albert Einstein once said, "You can't solve a problem with the same mind that created it." According to Dr. Russell Ackoff most managers agree with Einstein's statement but not many know what it means. It is easy to agree with something whose meaning is vague. In the Renaissance era, when the science as we know it today was born, a scientific inquiry method called Analysis was developed. Analysis comes naturally to us. Just watch kids breaking new things and being curious about the parts. The understanding of something follows a three step process in analytical thinking: 1. Take it apart 2. Understand (function, role, behavior) what the parts do 3. Assemble the understanding of the pa

Why is Ed worried?

I spent the month of December in Boston and went to my first Hanukkah celebration. I notice that all religions teach you the value of family, love, and compassion. At the human level, the Hanukkah celebration was similar to many other holiday celebrations; such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. These celebrations bring families together to share food, drink wine, enjoy laughs, play games, and exchange gifts. It is good to see the compassion come alive and visible during the holiday season. At the Hanukkah party, I met a wonderful, old and wise man, Ed. He has lived in more countries than most of us and understands human behavior exceptionally well. One of my highlights of staying in Boston was meeting Ed. We talked about various things for hours. Ed is worried! He is worried about the lack of evolution in democracy. The decision-making process in the US democracy has not changed in 200+ years. All major decisions are still made in DC which is a centralized decision making approach. And, w