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”

The Road Less Travelled

Note: This article was originally published on January 20, 2012

This happened sometime during my PGPM days. Idling away the leisure time I was awarded with thanks to the re scheduling of sessions, I came across a book during one of my random visits to the library. The title of the book itself caught my attention and stoked quite a few thoughts in me : The Road Less Travelled.

I then proceeded to check out what was the book all about. Interestingly it talked about one of those topics of life about which I have myself spent innumerable hours; thinking, experiencing, practicing and many a time avoiding.

“Confronting and solving problems is a painful process which most of us attempt to avoid. And the very avoidance results in greater pain and an inability to grow both mentally and spiritually. Facing our difficulties — and suffering through the changes — can enable us to reach a higher level of self — understanding.”

My mind instantly drifted to the words by a fairly renowned Sculpturist, during one of his talks during my high school days: “It is only by pain that birth (creation) happens, it is only by going through the pain of labour that lasting beauty is created.”

Didn’t take me much time henceforth to decide to get the book issued. And the person in-charge of issual, not surprisingly, gave me a look as if he is seeing an alien in his territory.

Getting back home I hit the bed with the book in my hand. And the very opening statements made the book a worthy read. And this is how it read. You guys may wanna take a look at it yourselves…

” Life is difficult… This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult — once we truly understand and accept it — then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters”

My first post on Quora and the Startup Village Harlem Shake

Note: This article was originally published on February 17, 2013

I ended up making my first set of contributions on Quora very recently. It was Deepak who alerted me to a conversation thread on Quora that was severely critical of Startup Village. While that was disappointing in itself, what was even more disappointing was that much of the facts were misrepresented by the user (who posted them as Anonymous).

I decided to provide my responses on the very same day itself. Few very good positives did come out of the exercise.

1. It served a good opportunity to validate the value of the contribution of Startup Village to the startup ecosystem. On that note, a personal thanks to all the entrepreneurs and well wishers who came out in support.

2. It also provided me an opportunity to capture and document the commendable efforts of the larger community in nurturing incubation and entrepreneurship activities in the state of Kerala to some measure. Special gratitude to all those visionary leaders who have been and still are tirelessy working towards a promising future for the state of Kerala

3. It has also been on my ToDo list for sometime to be a contributor on Quora. The opportunity served as just the right trigger for me.

I first proceeded to answer the original question that was posted. Subsequent to that I provided my response to Anon’s answer. (Links to both provided below)

I request all of you to contribute with your thoughts, comments & up votes.

Just after the episode was over and just when I was feeling generally good about the support voices from the community, I was treated to a superbly brilliant creation by none other that the team who is creating the Startup Village a reality. Loved it! You really have to see to believe how awesome it is.

The timing of this Startup Village Harlem shake video could not have been any better guys. Thanks a ton for this! Im still laughing even thinking about the piece. Awesome is the word

Special credits to Ashiq & Ann!

Thoughts on women entrepreneurship

Note: This article was originally published on March 8, 2013

I have been asked this question on a more than a couple of occasions by representatives from the media and stakeholders from the startup community: What is the percentage of female entrepreneurs / founders at Startup Village? I distinctly remember Rasheeda Bhagat, a senior journalist with the Hindu Business Line, asking me that question after gleefully playing around with the Blackberry phone controlled car at the Blackberry Innovation Zone.

Well, the honest answer is that, as with most tech startup ecosystems, the proportion is rather low. The tech startup world as it stands now is predominantly a male dominated industry segment. The ensuing conversations have always been around why is this so and what can be done to bring in more women to the fold. It is always the why that leads to more interesting discussions, more thoughtful insights and motivate us to action.

The very first female entrepreneur that we had at Startup Village is a really smart and bold girl named Pratheeksha. That she does not have a tech background (she is a graduate for Sacred Hearts, Thevara) while leading a tech startup company with ease makes it all the more impressive. She is one standout girl who is capable and determined. I have shared the stage with her on a couple of occasions during campus outreach sessions and there is always a different learning / insight each time I hear her story.

One theme that clearly emerged on all those talks is how much the support and understanding of her parents has really helped her and how much certain aspects of the societal fabric have been roadblocks in her entrepreneurial journey. What I would also like to mention here is that she was one of the very few entrepreneurs that made a distinctive impression with Ravi Gururaj and Raj Chinai of Harvard Business Angels. Ravi was talking about how impressed he was with her passion and tenacity and his keen interest in mentoring her during his recent visit to Startup Village.

Having said that, we also have a couple of husband wife pairs also among the Startup Village entrepreneurs. One notable pair behind the company that is being taken seriously by the VC world is Shiju & Chitra of iTraveller. The other companies that come to my mind are YummyBay, Phases & Enniloode. Ann came to Startup Village as an intern and by the time she was done with her term, she had started her own design company.I also come across very talented girls from among the student community as well. Im fully convinced that, its only a matter of time before people start hearing their success stories.

The first female entrepreneur that I have ever come across in my life and have had a very personal relationship with is my mom. (Yeah, the clich remarks about the boys and their mothers is not without a reason I guess. ) I would also like to note here that my sister very recently decided to take the entrepreneurial path with her venture in the HR domain, InFocuz.

We need a lot more Pratheeksha’s in our fold. Its clearly not a function of ability. The Pratheesksha’s of the world have proven time and again that there is nothing stopping them ability wise to go on and, in Steve Job’s words, make a dent in the universe. So the question and the conversation is and should only be around how do we enable this.

We, at Startup Village, are organizing a workshop today to initiate a dialogue around the matter. Its also a matter of honour that Shradha Sharma, the founder of, is the key speaker at the event. She is one amazing female that is pretty much giving all those tech guys in the field a run for their money. She has, in such a short amount of time, established herself as such a credible and influential voice in the tech startup ecosystem in India. And ever more interestingly, she also does not have a tech background. (I wonder there is any trend to be spotted there). I am so looking forward to hearing her story. Microsoft is also partnering and giving away some goodies to the females who are looking at taking the entrepreneurial path.

There have been several points that were discussed at various forums that I was part of on how to bring about this change. Some of the causes being cited as systemic and more to do with how the society has been structured; some of the measures suggested being sensitizing the society, encouraging more women to look at startup careers as an interim measure and provide avenues to enable them with digital marketing skills to leverage the power of the online world. (Have to remark that the power of the internet to democratize societal structures is fascinating)

But let me just stop there. What is more important is to hear from the people that matter, the women out there. It’s absolutely important that we understand the situation well before we jump into any conclusions and come up with recommendations and action plans. The women’s day provides an opportunity to rethink and act upon the renewed understanding. Do provide us with your thoughts, either as comments on this blog post or as an email. Would be great to hear from you. And I fully understand, this is only the start of the conversation.

Let go or be dragged

Note: This article was originally published on April 18, 2014

Few weeks back in office, during one of our sprint sessions, we were attempting to draw up the literature related to Student Entrepreneurship Policy of the Kerala State Government to go into our Wiki page. Overview section to that wiki page drawn up by Diksha prominently spoke about the role Startup Village played in bringing about such a policy into existence. In fact the first line read that it was an outcome of a campaign (a series of campaigns actually if you want to be matter of fact) undertaken by us.

While I was doing the review of the overview literature, I commented that we need to reword it and state the information in a plain and straightforward manner and eliminate all the references to the role Startup Village played in that. Yes, we might have played a crucial role in that but students who reach out to us want to only know what’s this policy all about and what’s in it for them. To this argument of mine, Diksha countered saying “But we did do a lot of work which resulted in the policy in the first place”. Well, let’s accept it, nobody cares!

The rationale of rewording was eventually accepted by the group. Tom also saw the point of “Nobody cares” but by the time we were walking out of the room after the meeting, he commented “It’s true, but it’s sad”. To me, that’s not an accurate depiction. I would prefer to reword it to depict the phenomenon more accurately — Its true, and it’s not sad. That’s just how the way it is!

Alignment as against belief & faith

There is this collective overemphasis in the world around the concept of belief, at times to the point of being delusional. To its credit, belief or faith have a lot of things going for them. Belief has resulted in the creation of marvels and led to large advancements in human prosperity. Belief has changed people, transformed masses and inspired generations. What is also to be noted is that faith is a two edged sword. Faith has equally had resulted in devastating consequences from time to time. But yet overall, I would be tempted to go with the argument that the sum total of all those consequences is net positive. That again could possibly be yet another manifestation of a belief.

The world of belief always has two sides to it. There are ups and downs. Much like the crests and troughs of a wave. Its nature dictates that for every crest there has to be a counter balancing trough; for every up, there has to be a compensating low. This correlates to the concept of a zero sum game. Belief is central to the concept of religion. And hence religions also reflect the dual nature; good & evil, heaven & earth. Can’t we better this zero sum game? Can we move into a game scenario where everyone wins?

These questions will lead us to a different thought tangent in itself and very soon you will be exploring aspects related to the cosmic nature of things. I also went through that journey and ended up with the concept of alignment as against belief. Gravity is a matter of alignment. It does not matter if we believe is gravity or not. It’s not a matter of belief, it’s only a matter of alignment. We have a choice to believe it or not. But irrespective of our choice, the universe and everything in it (us included) will be in alignment to the forces of gravity. At best, we have a choice to accept it or not.

If you further explore the concept of alignment and that too with the energies of the universe, you might end in discovering a lot of striking instances of alignment and its ability to magnify & amplify. Waves resonate when frequencies are in alignment. And resonance created by winds have moved and swayed large bridges. It is oft said that belief can move mountains. Well, I’m not too sure about that but resonance sure can make bridges dance. The concept of alignment to movements and energies is a central tenet of all forms of art; contemporary art, martial arts and sex. It’s not a zero sum game. Interestingly, information and knowledge also exhibit similar behaviours. Information and knowledge when shared tends to amplify; and exponentially that too.

In the realm of alignment, the goal is not to maximize happiness and minimize or manage sadness. The realm of alignment deems that things like happiness and success are a moving target and chasing them for their own sake is futile. In the realm of alignment, the objective is to achieve a state of flow! Its not the arbitrary goals like happiness and success that is the end but the pursuit itself. Its not the destination that makes the journey but the journey itself. A destination is only an arbitrary reference with the purpose of creating a journey.

Change as the only constant & growth as the only purpose

Change is the only constant. Things change. We change. We have a choice to accept it or resist it. At each stage, you need to outgrow the aspects that helped you grow to that point, consciously and gracefully. Growth is the only constant. The larvae need to leave its cocoon at one point irrespective of what it wishes. It has a choice to rue the fate of affairs and of not having a choice. It might prefer to retain the present state of comfort and familiarity. Or it can accept and embrace the phenomenon turning into a beautiful butterfly; of moving into a phase of movement and flight. And turn into a butterfly it will have to irrespective of what the preference is. It’s again how it is and it’s a function of alignment to the laws of life.

We go through similar phases several times in our lives. “Things used to be so much better and beautiful in the past”, “College days were the best days of my lives” “Our friendships are not the same from the time we used to be kids” “Wish things were the way it used to be” — People change, you change, everything changes! We do not have control of a lot of things that happens in our life. But we do have a choice about how those events can make us feel and how we respond to them. That is totally within our control. Swimming with the tide is a beautiful and effortless experience but what about swimming against the tide?

Your purpose and alignment is to growth; that’s also the way it is. You will need to outgrow your parents, your friends and even yourself for you to truly embrace the possibilities of moving into your next stage of growth. Like a hand of cards that has been dealt to you, you will need to figure out when to play them or fold them. And that’s what you need to get good at. Folding a hand is an equally powerful expertise in your game. Leaving an unplayable ball is a really important skill to have in cricket. Is it time to retire or what’s required is to be tenacious to see this tough phase through? Sometime, you will need to fold, you will need to leave and you will need to retire. There will be times when those are your only moves and it may even be the last move you get to make. Even at that stage, you have the power and the choice to do it consciously and graciously.

Your purpose and alignment is to growth. And to stay true to that alignment, you will need to let go from time to time, you will need to move on; consciously and gracefully.

Let go or be dragged!

Rejected successfully

I offer a course on Entrepreneurship at guest faculty at XIME. As part of their course project, each student is working on developing their own Google Assistant bots.

Now, one of the typical challenges most run into when it comes to developing their ideas is with “shipping”. People tend to figure out ways to keep working on anything but actually shipping the product and putting it in front of customers. The behaviour is very consistent and can be observed in anything that remotely involves cognitive or creative work. It’s also hard to call out this behaviour yourself since it mostly manifests in disguise — as features to be added or your need to make your product perfect. (FYI: Its neither — and its a skill gap. But more on that later).

An antidote to this in terms of an approach is “Shitty First Drafts” (the first iteration of any project). Over the course of last week, all students were asked to have their first versions submitted to the Actions for Google store. Students were also provided guidance that what is being attempted at this point as a first milestone is to secure that rejection letter from Google. The idea was not to have them worry too much about getting their versions approved and get them to click that Submit button. There were also given weekend as deadline.

Students did go ahead and make their submissions within the stipulated deadline as was their guidance. As rejections mails started coming in the class group on Telegram started becoming active. Something interesting was happening though. Instead of an air of gloom or dejection one would expect when rejections pour in en masse, the mood was one of jubilation and of accomplishment even.

Post after post read Rejected Successfully — not words one would expect to see together in a sentence. The ones that were yet to receive their rejection mails joined in the chorus stating there were eagerly waiting for their rejections to come in and one even remarked “Most awaited” when she finally received it.

If you aren’t having fun, you ain’t doing it right. Everyone was clearly having fun. Something was definitely right about the whole thing and the way it was playing out.

Note: We are midway into our our course. Before the end of the course, the plan is that each student will hack together their MVP’s and have them available in the Actions for Google store as a fully published agent.

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Reflecting on the time that I got some writing done

I have been wanting to write for a long time. There are several reasons why I want to write — which perhaps can be the matter of another post in itself, but the point here being that I had decided to write. And I haven’t. And that got me thinking as to what is it that can be done to actually get me to write.

On that note, reflecting on the only instance when I did manage to get some writing done. This was back in early 2014. I committed to write 1000 words before 9am and decided to try out the approach for a month. In an effort to hold me accountable, I had informed around 20 to 30 people in my circle about this decision of mine and that I would be sending them what I had written every day by 9am. In case they did not receive an email from me, they were to check in.

This approach actually worked. Not everyday was a breeze. Not everyday did I manage to get done before 9am. I missed a day or two in between. Somedays have been a fight. Every once in a while, a day of enjoyable writing would happen. But almost on all days I wrote. It worked. It was effective.

Maybe what is required is to commit to a routine and keep publishing.

Idea Grant: Will deadline be extended? / I have too less time now to submit Form 2

Have been hearing this all day and hence this post

Yes, today is the last date for application. But you still have time. Lots of it.

All will be provided more time (a week and if not more) to work on and improve their Form 2. What is required is that you made even a basic submission within the deadline (even draft responses will do). You will be able (and allowed) to edit your form responses thereafter. And yes, Form 2 is editable).

So all you need to ensure now for today is the following

  1. Make sure you Form 2 submission before the deadline
  2. Make sure you retain the link to edit the form

Arya has done a walkthrough Live which which guides you through the technicalities of navigating the questions in Form 2. The Live is also provided herewith in this post for ease of reference

And btw, Form 1 is also open still. Now go ahead and make your submissions in quick time — Form 1 should not take you more than 15 minutes and a very basic Form 2 can be completed in about 30 mins to an hour. Once done, just make sure you retain the edit link to Form 2 with you.

Once you get to this point, you have all of next week (and even beyond) to be able to improve your Form 2 submission. And all the information and guidance you will need to make a good Form 2 submission have beed compiled and made available by us at Rethink (find link below)