Student team from Startup Village rocks Innoz Hackathon at Bangalore

Note: This article was originally published on July 15, 2012

I have always believed in the potential of the young students in Kerala. Today was one of the days when I was vindicated. We had arranged a bus for some 20 odd talented students to travel to Bangalore on behalf of Startup Village and participate in the recently concluded Hackathon organized by Innoz. I had always held that exposure was the only key ingredient missing in our students from realizing their true potential. The amazing feat by the Startup Village mavericks at the Hackathon stands testimony to this fact and also left almost everyone dazzled.

The students that represented the Startup Village team @ Hackathon bagged the top honours for the first, second and the most popular app. It was one of those days in which the young boys from Kerala mesmerized the IT capital of India. Congratulations! All credit to you guys!

News link to the story

The template

Note: The note was originally published on August 29, 2011

The way of the world is a simple plan; a template that when followed will yield good dividends for those who can’t or don’t want to think. A simple plan which gives life a purpose and a sense of achievement by means of mutually agreed upon societal approval.

The simple plan alas may not be meant for the liberals, free thinkers or the pure mavericks, who might at times find themselves constrained and caged by the plan and at large by society. And as a direct consequence, they seek creative and cognitive expression.

Two incredibly simple tools to manage distractions and increase your focus

Note: This article was originally published on April 22, 2014

Within Startup Village team, we did an exercise to list out and understand some of the distractions that we face that gets in the way of us being productive and thereby hampering execution. The list had the usual suspects like noise in office, phone calls, interruptions from others, unscheduled meetings, air conditioning not to comfortable levels etc. In this post, I wanted to bring your attention to two distractions that showed up in almost every list. Our constant struggle to keep in check social media and other online distractions.

Let me provide a bit more perspective so that there is more context for a healthy discussion. Some people and organizations view social media as sort of a bad thing; going so far as to ban social media and video sites from networks. Let me go to make it clear upfront that I do not hold any such views. On the contrary, I believe that social media is a very valuable tool and that too from a professional perspective. First and foremost, it satisfies the basic human need to connect. For me personally, it now serves as my prime method of how I discover relevant information, content & connections. Most importantly, it also provides us with the much needed relaxation and enjoyment which is essential to us being more productive overall. The role of rest, relaxation and enjoyment to overall productivity and satisfaction levels deserves way more attention that it is presently accorded in our professional settings.

So at Startup Village, we do not have any policy restricting social media access or provide usage guidelines as to how they need to be using social media. We in turn have decided to trust our people and adopt the stance that it’s a matter of choice of the individual to decide how he or she wishes to use social media. More choice and power to the individual.

My point of discussion of this blog is to one of the suggestions that came up during the course of the discussion of how best we can manage the aspect of social media and other online activities being a distraction (whether it was considered a distraction or not was purely based on self-reported data). I’d also like to bring to attention how some solutions get more general consensus only because its aligned to conventionally held thoughts and beliefs. Such over simplified understanding of the problem need not necessarily capture the actual nature of the problem even. The solution that I am referring to here also has the same nature that I just alluded to here. And the solution is perspective that came up to the problem by the group was self-control.

In some sense it’s a correct usage as well. It does boil down to self control after all. The problem is in that self control is a tad overrated. Tim Ferris uses the exact words in his blog and there are enough literature on the science behind will power that would be useful to understanding the context of these statements. Social media impulses are akin to an addiction (there is enough literature to substantiate this) and the solution lies in effecting a behavioural change. And while driving behavioural change by yourself is not impossible, it is only pragmatic (and easier as well) to consider that you will need help, from other people and / or tools and methods, to effectively drive a behaviour change. Reading up literature on science of habit formation will be really helpful to understanding this better.

The way to go about it is to have a plan. It boils down to consciously deciding when and how you engage in social media. The key is in you actively deciding your schedule or not the other way round where the social media sites or your own fleeting impulses end up doing that for you.

In this context, Im proceeding to talk about two Chrome add ons that could be particularly helpful. One is this addon named “Strict Workflow” and the other is this addon named “StayFocusd”. Both these tools can assist you in sticking to the plan that you have charted out for yourself.

1. Strict Workflow

Strict Workflow adopts the “Pomodoro” approach. This approach is based on the fact that we do our best work in short bursts followed by a scheduled break. Strict workflow provides you a countdown to this effect and alerts you that its time for your break when the block of allotted time is over. This tool is particularly helpful when you are trying to focus and is working towards making progress on a bigger or more complex problem. The tool becomes all the more effective given its feature that it wont let you access preselected sites during the course of those work periods. The only way to kill it before it hits it time limit is to uninstall the plug in apparently. And hence the name “Strict” Workflow as well!

2. Stay Focused

This tools lets you select websites and allot how much time you want to use it on a day. Say you can select FB and allot it 10 mins a day. What then happens is that once your cumulative usage in a day crossed 10 mins, it will block that site for the remaining part of the day. A complement or an alternative to this is the “RescueTime” application which will provide you with data on the amount of time you spend on various activities and reports based on that. It is a desktop application and hence tracks usage of desktop based applications as well if I recall well. I believe a premium subscription will also provide you with the options to block sites also. Tim Ferris, the author of Four Hour work week and sort of the posterboy for productivity hacks, speaks very highly about this application in his books and various other blogs articles by the way.April 22, 2014

Within Startup Village team, we did an exercise to list out and understand some of the distractions that we face that gets in the way of us being productive and thereby hampering execution. The list had the usual suspects like noise in office, phone calls, interruptions from others, unscheduled meetings, air conditioning not to comfortable levels etc. In this post, I wanted to bring your attention to two distractions that showed up in almost every list. Our constant struggle to keep in check social media and other online distractions.

Let me provide a bit more perspective so that there is more context for a healthy discussion. Some people and organizations view social media as sort of a bad thing; going so far as to ban social media and video sites from networks. Let me go to make it clear upfront that I do not hold any such views. On the contrary, I believe that social media is a very valuable tool and that too from a professional perspective. First and foremost, it satisfies the basic human need to connect. For me personally, it now serves as my prime method of how I discover relevant information, content & connections. Most importantly, it also provides us with the much needed relaxation and enjoyment which is essential to us being more productive overall. The role of rest, relaxation and enjoyment to overall productivity and satisfaction levels deserves way more attention that it is presently accorded in our professional settings.

So at Startup Village, we do not have any policy restricting social media access or provide usage guidelines as to how they need to be using social media. We in turn have decided to trust our people and adopt the stance that it’s a matter of choice of the individual to decide how he or she wishes to use social media. More choice and power to the individual.

My point of discussion of this blog is to one of the suggestions that came up during the course of the discussion of how best we can manage the aspect of social media and other online activities being a distraction (whether it was considered a distraction or not was purely based on self-reported data). I’d also like to bring to attention how some solutions get more general consensus only because its aligned to conventionally held thoughts and beliefs. Such over simplified understanding of the problem need not necessarily capture the actual nature of the problem even. The solution that I am referring to here also has the same nature that I just alluded to here. And the solution is perspective that came up to the problem by the group was self-control.

In some sense it’s a correct usage as well. It does boil down to self control after all. The problem is in that self control is a tad overrated. Tim Ferris uses the exact words in his blog and there are enough literature on the science behind will power that would be useful to understanding the context of these statements. Social media impulses are akin to an addiction (there is enough literature to substantiate this) and the solution lies in effecting a behavioural change. And while driving behavioural change by yourself is not impossible, it is only pragmatic (and easier as well) to consider that you will need help, from other people and / or tools and methods, to effectively drive a behaviour change. Reading up literature on science of habit formation will be really helpful to understanding this better.

The way to go about it is to have a plan. It boils down to consciously deciding when and how you engage in social media. The key is in you actively deciding your schedule or not the other way round where the social media sites or your own fleeting impulses end up doing that for you.

In this context, Im proceeding to talk about two Chrome add ons that could be particularly helpful. One is this addon named “Strict Workflow” and the other is this addon named “StayFocusd”. Both these tools can assist you in sticking to the plan that you have charted out for yourself.

1. Strict Workflow

Strict Workflow adopts the “Pomodoro” approach. This approach is based on the fact that we do our best work in short bursts followed by a scheduled break. Strict workflow provides you a countdown to this effect and alerts you that its time for your break when the block of allotted time is over. This tool is particularly helpful when you are trying to focus and is working towards making progress on a bigger or more complex problem. The tool becomes all the more effective given its feature that it wont let you access preselected sites during the course of those work periods. The only way to kill it before it hits it time limit is to uninstall the plug in apparently. And hence the name “Strict” Workflow as well!

2. Stay Focused

This tools lets you select websites and allot how much time you want to use it on a day. Say you can select FB and allot it 10 mins a day. What then happens is that once your cumulative usage in a day crossed 10 mins, it will block that site for the remaining part of the day. A complement or an alternative to this is the “RescueTime” application which will provide you with data on the amount of time you spend on various activities and reports based on that. It is a desktop application and hence tracks usage of desktop based applications as well if I recall well. I believe a premium subscription will also provide you with the options to block sites also. Tim Ferris, the author of Four Hour work week and sort of the posterboy for productivity hacks, speaks very highly about this application in his books and various other blogs articles by the way.

I don’t accept mementos

Note: This article was originally published on April 3, 2014

I’ve always enjoyed going for talk sessions. One of the best things about this particular role of mine now with Startup Village is the fact that I keep getting invited for college sessions. There is this practice of giving you something at the end of the session as a token of their appreciation. Well, I’m cool with this practice and appreciate and understand the fact that it a good gesture on the part of the college. But the key idea I wanted to highlight in this particular article is the need to rethink all these practices: both in its relevance and execution. My problem is with the way we end up adopting these practices just because this is how it has always been. My problem is with the reluctance to rethink the value in these practices by understanding and critically questioning why even such a practice existed in the first place.

Let me attempt to better clarify what I’m trying to say here in the context of the title of this article. I keep going to college sessions and then I get a token of appreciation at the end of the session. Now on almost all occasions, I have received some sort of a random decorative piece that could potentially go into a showcase. In some instances, it also contains the name or logo of the organisation as well. Now, as much as I appreciate the gesture, I don’t have any value (apart from the value in the gesture itself) for the items I receive. I don’t like these, I don’t have a showcase in which I can put these things in, I don’t retain these stuff with me and the most important of them all being that I don’t like carrying these stuff back with me. Just take a look at the memento that I received for a talk at a college in Thrissur, which incidentally also happens to be the college in which my sister did her pre degree course, and then you will get a better picture of what I am talking about.


Now, agreed that these are personal preferences. But that’s precisely my point! I willingly and happily accept invitations to such sessions and on the face of it, without any expectation of receiving anything (material) in return. And then in the name of showing gratitude, I’m provided me with something that I don’t like, that provides no value to me and more importantly again, inconvenience me. Inconvenience in the sense that now I have to carry this thing back with and figure out a way to store / dispose this. Imagine me having to carry back something like the one in the pic all the way back from Guwahati! (I had been to a talk at IIT Guwahati as well last year and they also provided me with an inconvenient token of gratitude)

Now I have highlighted the issue. I have also been giving some thought as to what could be a potential alternative to this “token of gratitude” situation. Denying the college the decision to give anything in return is also not the optimal way to go forward since forcing that option will also leave people engaged in the social transaction unhappy. Given a choice, I would be happier to receive a box of those 5 rupee Kit Kat’s or even just one Cadbury’s Dairy Milk bar over those inconvenient memorabilia that I so often end up with. Having said that, let me highlight the fact that there were some occasions I was happy with what I had received. Three infact. The times when I received books — I have an insatiable appetite for books!

The first book I received was one of PG Wodehouse. I don’t recall the event neither do I look forward to reading that book but I was happy that it was a book. The next book I received was at a Tata business meet that happened in Cochin for which I was invited as one of the panelists. They also gave me a book. It was a book that spoke about the Tata’s story though; but one of those non-fiction books nonetheless and hence scores high on relevance for me (I read non fiction books almost exclusively). The best instance was when I received this book from Murugappan of the Murgappa Group. The occasion was that they had invited me as a chief guest for the flagship events of CUMI. CUMI is one of the companies under the Murugappa Group and CuFest was the event.

It was the book titled Startup Nation. It’s the story that talks about Israel and it attempts to capture what made Israel one among the best technology innovations hubs in the world. So it was a book, a book that was relevant to my reading preferences, a book that would be good for my understanding in better executing my role at Startup Village and a book that was selected keeping all this in mind. Now this was really thoughtful. And the book also had a hand written personal message from Murugappan himself. Now this was something that meant a lot to me and provided value to me through and through.


The book with the handwritten note from Murugappan

Now in this case, it so happened that it was a book that I wished to read and its only fortunate that I had not read that book earlier. But there is no way that they could have figured that out. So this is what I was thinking. I will write a blog post to explicitly and proactively inform people with my thoughts and preferences on this memento citation. I can also include the list to my book reading list. (I was using a reading list app by Amazon on Linkedin which they subsequently stopped. Now I’m checking out Good reads as an alternative). That way I think everyone involved in the social transaction has a better understanding of each other’s preferences, while also retaining their individual right to exercise their own choice.

An interesting use case of Facebook Graph Search

Note: This article was originally published on July 22, 2013.


I chanced upon a new use case of the Facebook graph search tool during one of the informal conversations that I was having with the founder of one of our startups. Vijith of Dolojo is the person that I am referring to here. He had very recently moved into Startup Village with his new team mates and was introducing me to them. I also came to know that the two smart ones were the products of FISAT and the proteges of the much beloved Prof Mahesh. (Mahesh is doing a remarkable job of grooming talented young coders and kudos to the college management for having enabled and empowered this passionate and committed individual with the right tools, structures and resources for him to create his magic. They have a very interesting model which I’ll probably talk about in a different post).

I do keep asking this question to teams that I run into “How did you end up meeting / knowing each other? (Vijith by the way is a recent graduate from CUSAT). And during our conversation, I ended up asking these guys also the very same question. Almost every time that answer is quite insightful and this time around it was particularly so. The answer came from Vijith, “Facebook Graph Search”. What struck me even more was that the way he mentioned it came across as a logical thing to do. And he also had “obviously” written all over his face. (Well, not so much for someone like me who was engaged in a half an hour conversation with one of our other startup founders, Shiju of iTraveller, brainstorming on how and where to find talented coders to join his team; and that too just before this conversation with Vijith happened ).

My curiosity made me ask what was the exact search string that he used. “People who like Python”!! And that got him to in touch with these talented developers. How simple and awesome was that! Facebook graph search had amazed me at the advent itself. I could not see the exact use cases where it could be used (except ofcourse the obvious use case of looking up a girl in a city or in your friends list ) but I could sort of sense its power that left me convinced that this was going to be big. And this use case was just remarkable! Talent acquisition for startups just got a fresh twist!

To all those startup founders who are looking for developers, maybe its time to do a quick Facebook graph search that probably looks something like — “Students who like Android”. And the students / graduates / developers out there who are looking for promising and challenging opportunities, you might want to ensure that you have “Liked” the pages corresponding to the development platforms of your choice and expertise!

“We don’t judge ideas”

Note: This article was originally published on March 20, 2014

I first met Nithin sometime in mid-2012. He was a final year student at RIT Govt engineering college, Kottayam and he was doing an internship stint with one of our startups (Profoundis). Arjun of Profoundis introduced me to Nithin and we were having a casual interaction in my room. He was going on and on about the various IEEE related activities that he has been engaged with. It was visible that he was proud to be part of the IEEE and was also equally proud of his accomplishments.


That’s Nithin

We did have brief interactions from that point onwards and its sometime in November 2012 that the next milestone, with respect to my relationship with Nithin and his with Startup Village, happened. There was this hackathon that we were jointly organizing with Blackberry at the Innoz office in Bangalore. In those days, Nithin and co were not even aware of the concept of a hackathon. More than the hackathon itself, it was the promise of a free trip to Bangalore (along with promises of free booze & redbulls!) that motivated Nithin and his gang of friends. Much to his surprise and ours, Nithin and team ended up winning that hackathon and eventually they ended up being the team that represented India in the Blackberry Jam Asia finals at Bangkok!


Deccan Chronicle article of Nithin & team winning the Blackberry Hackathon

Yet again, this reminds me of one of those movie plots in which our dear hero just wins every single game depicted in a movie; be it kabbadi, be it cycling or be it car racing. So lets take a slightly closer look at what really happened at the hackathon to get a slightly better perspective than the one offered in the movies. Yes, they reached Bangalore and promptly went about bunking all the sessions and hanging around in Forum mall and other places. They stayed up throughout the night downing bottles and bottles of Red Bulls and channelizing all those energies into video games. And by the time the event was coming to a close, they realized that everyone had to present what they had come up with and our beloved Nithin & team had nothing to showcase! (Yeah, this aint filmy at all. This has more resemblance to the eve of an engineering exam).


Gametime at Blackberry Hackathon

Almost all the other teams were done with their apps and had started working on their pitch presentations. And our dear fellows was trying to come to terms with the reality that how embarrassing it would be for them to go up on stage and present, well, nothing! It reminds me of the scenarios that me and probably several other engineering students would have encountered at some point in their lives: You are in the engineering internals exam hall. You have turned up primarily for the attendance. Your hope is to be able to write just enough on the paper to avoid / minimize embarrassment when you hand in the answer sheets. You are offered a twine to tie the sheets together and you assuredly tie the knot across the single sheet of answer paper that you plan to turn in. And then after getting the question paper and pondering over the questions for the next 30 minutes or so, you come to the realization that all you are capable of producing on the answer sheet, apart from your name and roll number, is the name of the subject; and that too probably because it comes printed on the question paper sheet!

So our beloved team was in a similar state at the hackathon event and the primal engineering education trained instincts of summoning all your energies in a desperate attempt to avoid embarrassment kicked in. That’s when our brain also becomes really inventive and comes up with interesting hacks or innovative shortcuts. Needless to say, creativity, innovation and productivity are at its zenith during this stage. Since they didn’t have time to do both the app and the presentation, they came up with the thought of combining them both. That thought tangent led to them to think “Everyone had a app and have to present, why don’t we do an app that lets everyone do a presentation?” And they ended up with the idea of a story telling app and since they had access to the expert programming skills of Anoop Nayak (aka Package) they came up with a basic version just in time for the final presentation. A combination of original thinking, lack of time to discuss and debate alternate ideas and last minute panic combined with some skilful execution resulted in an unexpected top honours at the event.


Last minute panic as a source of inspiration

So this is the story of how they came up with the idea of a story telling app. The team did put in a lot of effort next time around before their finals at Bangkok to pull off a much better show. They crashed royally at the final round and they were clueless to the question of how the app is going to make money or what would be the business model when asked by the judging panel. After the spectacular defeat at Jam Asia and several rounds of feedback that they received along the way, our team also ended up concluding that the app did not have a market or a future to be turned into a proper company. But by then, they had decided to attempt a startup of their own.


Nithin & team formally registering their startup with Startup Village

They were now in search of a product idea for their company. And then, BB10 made its commercial launch with the unveiling of the Z10. To their amazement, Nithin & team realized that a story telling app by Blackberry was one among the handful of apps that came preloaded on the BB10 device. They had not considered that as a potential market opportunity for their app and that someone like Blackberry would have been interested in partnering with their small team of original thinkers instead of going it alone and building a story telling app themselves. This incident was insightful in itself.


A jet lagged Nithin — SVSquare trip

A far impactful and insightful information came their way few more months down the line. Merissa Meyer had taken over as the CEO of Yahoo and the geek goddess set about on an acquisition spree. The acquisitions that made the top headlines were Tubmlr (for the 1 billion dollar tag) and Summly (for being the creation of a 13 year old kid). One that did not hit the headlines was and one that invoked myriads of emotions in our beloved hackathon team, as you might have guessed by now, was the acquisition of a story telling app. This GigaOm article (Link to the article) states that Qwiki, a story telling app, was acquired by Yahoo for 30 million dollars! How about that for a business model strategy: build a story telling app and sell to Yahoo for a neat 30mn USD! Im not really sure whether anyone in our peer community would have validated or believed that line for a business model strategy. I don’t think Nithin and team themselves would have believed the statement had someone suggested to them that they should look at an acquisition by Yahoo for a business model strategy. Sure, with the benefit of hindsight, that would have been an “obvious” business model for the story telling app! A 30 mn USD (150+ Crore INR) business idea. That was potentially how much Yahoo would have been willing to pay for a last minute panic idea of a bunch of rookie engineering students from Kerala!


Created and shared on Facebook by one of Nithin’s well wishers

At Startup Village, we don’t judge ideas. We believe that nobody is qualified to do that: not just us but anybody out there. Neither do we have any right to judge an idea as well. I don’t think any “rational’ person would have believed Jimmy Wales when he said that he could create Wikipedia with a handful of developers by his side and a vast collections of individuals scattered around the globe and who had a desire to contribute. And even if someone had believed that, nobody would have ever even entertained any thought that it could even remotely challenge established majors like Britanica Encyclopedia or even force them out of business.

At Startup Village, we don’t judge ideas. At best, we are a platform; and we see our role as a facilitator to your entrepreneurial journey. We don’t judge your ideas, we aspire to only be the catalyst that facilitates and even accelerates your idea discovery & execution process. This has been and will remain our guiding principle at Startup Village. We don’t judge ideas!

It takes a village to transform a nation

Note: This article was originally published on March 11, 2013


Engaging in a good conversation with Shradha at our Startup Village office

When we invited Shradha Sharma over to Startup Village to be the key speaker on the occasion on Women’s day, little did we know what was in store for us. She delighted everyone with one of the best endorsements and testimonials of Startup Village to date. Find below some powerful statements from the article.

If you want to experience the new India, a young and driven India filled with hope and confidence, I strongly recommend you visit the Startup Village.

Ask these young entrepreneurs, why they’re not at a regular high-paying job, after all most are equipped with solid engineering degrees. And pat comes the answer, we want to make a difference, we want to build the best products out of India and we can do it. Now, this is the harbinger of a new India.

While we keep talking about Silicon Valley and Y Combinator as the aspiration, it’s time for us to appreciate our unique successes, our own startups and our very own Startup Village. I can easily say that if this passion and momentum continues, very soon India will be an inspirational place for startups from across the world.

You should read it for yourself to get a real picture of what Im talking about. Here is the full article -> Startups’ own country by Shradha Sharma, YourStory.in

Shradha Sharma is an inspiration herself to all the aspiring entrepreneurs out there (men and women alike). She shared her story of how she started out from Bihar to putting together her small empire in the tech startup ecosystem in India; that we all know as YourStory.in. In her own words, a lot of people had a lot of interesting stories to tell and she wanted be to be their voice.

Watch the video below to get a glimpse of the day and and how we weaved her charm on the girls gathered at Startup Village. Kudos to the team from CAT entertainment for coming out with such a fine piece of work so quickly.

Subsequent to the session, I had a very interesting discussion with Shradha in our office. We shared stories, debated on the various aspects of the industry and how we expect the Indian story to unfold. We may have some very interesting associations to share over the course of the next 4 months.

Aside of all that, it is highly engaging and motivating to brainstorm with people who is as passionate and as energetic as Shradha Sharma. She has loads and loads of energy and is absolutely excited to hear as many startup stories as you can. Now there is a story for you right there!

The joy of quiet

Note: This article was originally published on March 6, 2012

It has been sometime since I visited Vagamon. The last trip was immediately after my engineering along with my friends during our all Kerala bike trip. Realisation dawned en route our journey to the place that its been nearly 7 years since that.

I booked a tree top view room for a day at a resort named Vagamon heights. The manager, Mr Siyad was a very friendly person. He even offered a small discount considering its a lean season and since there weren’t any other bookings for the weekend.

I had planned to leave somewhere around 7–8 in the morning from Cochin. But I had some work to attend to and eventually ended up starting our journey by around 11:30am. The roads were good throughout and the drive was nice. I took about 3 hours to reach there.The place is a 300 acre property. The place of stay was nice and comfortable and while not exactly being a tree top house, the view gave a good feeling of being perched upon a tree top.


Tree top house view @ Vagamon heights

I pretty much ended up doing only relaxing and unwinding almost throughout the stay there. I ended up hanging around in our room till about 2pm until I finally decided to start my journey back.

The place was nice, calm and most importantly silent! It feels good to be cut off from everyday life and any form of digital connectivity for sometime. And its my second similar experience within a span of 3 months, the last one being Galibore fishing camp in December. I feel recharged and more importantly a lot more at peace with myself at the end of these trips. It gives me time and space to think, to calm the voices inside my head and to settle down my thoughts.

On that note, I would also like to refer to an article that I read recently — The joy of quiet. I would also go on to cite a few sentences from the article that captures the essence of what it is trying to convey.

1. The more ways we have to connect, the more many of us seem desperate to unplug.

2. The urgency of slowing down — to find the time and space to think — is nothing new, of course, and wiser souls have always reminded us that the more attention we pay to the moment, the less time and energy we have to place it in some larger context.

3. “All of man’s problems come from his inability to sit quietly in a room alone” ~ Blaise Pascal

4. “When things come at you very fast, naturally you lose touch with yourself.” ~Marshall McLuhan

5. We’re rushing to meet so many deadlines that we hardly register that what we need most are lifelines.

6. The central paradox of the machines that have made our lives so much brighter, quicker, longer and healthier is that they cannot teach us how to make the best use of them; the information revolution came without an instruction manual.

7. A series of tests in recent years has shown that after spending time in quiet rural settings, subjects “exhibit greater attentiveness, stronger memory and generally improved cognition. Their brains become both calmer and sharper”

8. Empathy, as well as deep thought, as neuroscientists have found, depends on neural processes that are “inherently slow”

Maybe I should now try a vow of silence for a day and see how it feels!

Inspired thoughts at TEDxYouth@Chennai

Note: This post was originally published on September 7, 2011

I once had the opportunity to attend one of the TEDx events that happened in Chennai as I was invited to be the official blogger for the event. The talks I attended there were both interesting and inspiring. The inspired thoughts thread is an attempt to recreate the ideas and the experiences I was exposed to at the event.

TEDxYouth@Chennai opened with a interesting talk by Saundarya Rajesh, Founder- President, AVTAR Career Creators. Soundarya is one of the earliest voices to speak on Diversity & Inclusion in India, is a winner of the SCOPE Woman Exemplar Award 2006, the Yuvashakthi Entrepreneur of the Year award 2007. She urged the audience to aspire and acquire generational competence, the skill that empowers us with the knowledge and understanding of various generations. She encouraged the youth to seek out generational competence and to leverage its power in our everyday lives. This, Soundarya notes,.. is an idea worth spreading

Next up was Balaji Sampath, Founder of AID India, a non-profit organization working on Education and Rural Development. He enlightened the audience of the need to get the parents at the bottom of the pyramid to get involved in the education of their children. Balaji envisions getting people engaged as the key to fundamental and structural transformations in both education and health. Getting people engaged would be perhaps THE best way to get the government run schools accountable. This would in turn lead us to enhanced quality of education, Balaji reminded.

Armendra Kumar is a man on a mission. He dreams of making India as Clean as Switzerland in one year. He is a great believer in the power of markets in solving the challenges facing the society. Armendra is a founder and missionary in chief at CleanCredit and a Research Scholar in Public Policy @ IIMB. While explaining his concept of Trash is Cash he appealed to the audience to ponder why in a society like India where littering is the order of the day, why is it that dont we find beer bottles and newspapers in any of the garbage. He theorizes that the answer lies in the fact that there exists a market for beer bottles and newspapers but not for other kinds of trash. As a concluding note of his interesting and thought provoking presentation, Armendra appealed to the audience to participate in the online Satyagraha, which he names Satyagraha 2.0, and pave way for a cleaner India.

Major A.K. Ravindran better known by his screen name Major Ravi is a former Indian Army Officer and a Malayali Indian filmmaker, recipient of the President’s medal, joined the Indian army as a jawan in 1975 and graduated from the Army Cadet College to become a commando in the year 1988. He led the mission codenamed Operation One-Eyed Jack to capture suspects of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, the experiences of which inspired him to direct Mission 90 Days (2007). Major Ravi choose to fly down from Mumbai to address the audience and essentially to inspire them to follow their dreams and live life to its fullest. He took us through his life, right from the time when he dropped out of school in 10th, to his present passion of moviemaking. The journey was both inspiring and in my opinion would also make for a great script for his next movie.

Major A.K. Ravindran better known by his screen name Major Ravi is a former Indian Army Officer and a Malayali Indian filmmaker, recipient of the President’s medal, joined the Indian army as a jawan in 1975 and graduated from the Army Cadet College to become a commando in the year 1988. He led the mission codenamed Operation One-Eyed Jack to capture suspects of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, the experiences of which inspired him to direct Mission 90 Days (2007). Major Ravi choose to fly down from Mumbai to address the audience and essentially to inspire them to follow their dreams and live life to its fullest. He took us through his life, right from the time when he dropped out of school in 10th, to his present passion of moviemaking. The journey was both inspiring and in my opinion would also make for a great script for his next movie..

Shades of grey

Note: This article was originally published on July 15, 2011

One of the preoccupations and obsessions of civil society and human race is with classifying things, people and events into bad or good; black or white. This classification or stereotyping ranks high up in the umpteen cognitive biases of the human mind.

This particular characteristic of ours used to be (and to a certain extent still is) really helpful considering its significance in the biological evolution of our species. Our brain has only so much resources and it has to employ every bit of it optimally to ensure our survival and well being. When we come across new information, our brain immediately has to decide whether its good or bad for us and accordingly prepare our entire system for fight or flight responses. And it has to do it in the fastest time possible and with the limited information available. This the brain achieves through heuristics based on associations. The crucial role of this behaviour cannot be overestimated in our quest for survival.

Modern civilised society has moved well beyond its survival threats that used to haunt our primitive civilizations. We still function with heuristics. Our brain is programmed to overemphasise associations. This per se is good, provided we make a constant effort to update and rethink our deeply held assumptions and prejudices. For these form the basis of our categorisation of what is good or bad for us. For civilised society today is essentially a fleeting amalgamation of hues of grey.

The challenge of modern society in this regard, is to tune our instincts, update it from its pre programmed biological survival mode, to be in sync with our times; the knowledge age. Classification or conviction about people and things and events is not more capable enough to provide us with a roadmap to navigate the complex turf of modern human social life, for it has moved beyond the plain black and white canvass it used to be, to the myriads of shades of grey that it can afford to be today. What it calls now is for understanding and acceptance as the essential dashboard to this gift of ours. This fundamentally needs to be part of our social fabric to be well integrated and unleash the broad spectrum of possibilities that modern civilized society holds potential for. There in lies the pathway to substantially improve upon the collective social wisdom accumulated over the years and collective social capital and scale human civilization to greater heights. It’s also time to conjure up a paradigm shift in defining what we term our right to live.

To recall the statement I read somewhere that puts these thoughts into context, “Conviction, it turns out, is a luxury of those on the sidelines”