15 September 2021

Guess who I go to see in Nashville?

Tracey (only the second person I know who spells her name that way) and I have worked in Equifax in our past lives. We left the company at around the same time. I knew she had moved to Nashville but did not know much more than that.

Fortunately for me, she was gracious enough to give me some time for coffee this morning in between her busy schedule. (She runs HR for an international division and has crazy hours).

I got to learn about her life story which has taken her from Iowa to Georgia to Colorado back to Georgia to Tennessee and she thinks will get her back to Georgia again! Unlike most of my intersection points, we talked a lot about topics from our professional lives.

Specifically, we discussed the potential long term challenges in Work From Home culture. We both seem to think that employers and employees alike have not quite fully fathomed the long term effects. We discussed onboarding challenges, how to inculcate the feeling of belonging when the whole employee base works from home, how does performance evaluation change and how does one go around building culture.

It was a great discussion and learnt a lot from her!

We also talked about her trips to India and thought we should do a trip together one of these days. Together with our common friend – Hunt Jackson.

“Before, I let you go, Tracey – I have my usual question – what have you learnt from life that I can learn from?”

“Travel”

“Travel?”

“Yes, travel as much as you can. To different places and countries.”

“Because there is so much of the world to see?”

“Yes. But more importantly, there are so many different people to meet. Learn from different perspectives, cultures and ethos other people have. Without that, we become frogs in a well incapable of understanding the larger perspectives in life”.

Travel, it is then! Hunt, if you are listening – we three need to to get to India sometime soon!

14 September 2021

The officer (and a gentleman too!)

I met Scott Leftwich – a decorated Commander in the Navy (pilot – and was attached to the White House for a couple of years if I am not very mistaken) in 2010. I believe it was in San Diego. It was in the context of the acquisition of a company.

Over the years, we moved on to different companies but we kept in touch. At least once a year – on his birthday. Every birthday, I would make a promise – “If I ever visit Nashville, Scott, you will be the first one to know”.

Today was the first day I ever stepped my feet on Nashville. And he was the first person I saw!!

There was too much to catch up on in one evening. For starters, we had the old business we ran together. And here is a funny – but predictable – thing: We struggled to remember numbers, dates and even product names… but we remembered the people!! We talked about all our team mates. That is a great life learning… it is always about people!!

We talked about growing old… we talked about houses on the beach… we talked about our kids. I might have even tempted him to get on a motorbike!!

We talked about the stuff about Working From Home that nobody is talking about and the challenges in Leadership most of us are not comfortable discussing publicly.

What was startling about this gentleman is how little he has changed. It is that same constant smile, that sereneness to take an uncommonly balanced point of view and that ability to make me feel good by laughing at my terrible jokes!!!

I got to see him soon again!!

14 September 2021

Book Review: Beginners by Tom Vanderbilt

Did you know you can whistle more accurately than you can sing? Do you know why?
OR
Most of us have difficulty copying a drawing of a face. Turn it upside down and it becomes much easier!! Do you know why?
OR
Students who studied both science and arts – a relative rarity – were much more likely to later assume leadership roles?

Well, the reason I picked up this book is my desire to learn new skills every other year or so. I was looking for a book that delves into the learning process itself. I had to believe that at a first derivative level, learning lessons must follow similar patterns regardless of the skill. And if I understood those patterns, learning might become easier as I keep getting old.

The book does not disappoint. For one, it is written by a journalist – who tend to have a flair for writing. For another, he himself has picked up a lot of new skills – playing chess, singing, swimming, surfing, juggling, drawing – at a fairly high level at a fairly old age.

The book started a little slow for me – I was okay with the story telling – but I was looking for some insights. The speed picks up in the subsequent chapters. There is one chapter that is fully dedicated to understanding the learning process and how at old age, we make learning difficult for ourselves.

Some interesting insights about being a beginner:
1. A man progresses in all things by making a fool of himself – GB Shaw
2. Becoming a first-time parent is one of the more fundamental experiences of being a beginner
3. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the experts mind there are few – Shunryu Suzuki
4. Students who studied both science and arts – a relative rarity – were much more likely to later assume leadership roles.

Why we stop learning new things:
1. What is admired in today’s society is success, achievement and the quality of performance rather than the quality of experience – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
2. The idea of undertaking new pursuits, ones that you may never be very good at, seems perverse in this age of single-minded peak performance.
3. “To permit yourself to do only that which you are good at, is to be trapped in a cage whose bars are not steel but self-judgment”
4. Much of our pain in learning, argues Barbara Oakley, comes from getting hung up on results.

Some considerations towards learning:
1. We all have latent abilities that can be unlocked
2. Skills take time
3. Failure is an essential part of learning
4. Change up your practice
5. Your progress is not going to be linear
6. Skills rarely “transfer”
7. Always be on the edge of the impossible (if it feels easy, you’re probably not learning)
8. Learning new skills helps open new worlds.
9. Goals are good, but keep your eyes open for opportunity

Interesting things I learnt about singing:
1. Weirdly, whispering usually puts more strain on the vocal folks than speaking
2. We do not have as much control over our mouth as over our larynx. In fact, we can whistle more accurately than we can sing
3. The vowel is the voice. The consonant is the interruption of the voice

Dreyfus model of learning:
1. Beginners are always looking at themselves. We do worse at an activity when we focus on ourselves, instead of some “external” target
2. Beginners judge their performance by how well they follow the rules.
3. If beginners are about learning rules, advanced beginners are about actually applying those rules. That also involves when not to apply those rules or how to act when no rule seems to apply.
4. There are often, in moments of anxiety, a disconnect in skills learning between instinct and proper technique… hitting high notes, you bend your knees and dip down, in skiing, you lean forward not to fall, in motorcycling, you push the handle left to go left, in surfing, you punch the accelerator when the brain says brake.

Interesting things I learnt about juggling:
1. One way to improve learning, research suggests, is to make skills seem easier in the beginning (juggle slowly).
2. The key to learning juggling is not thinking. Thinking gets in the way of learning.
3. Sleep, or even a short rest, is one of our best learning tools.
4. The brain wants to be puzzled and learn something new. It likes learning for learning’s sake. Taking gaps in learning – and making mistakes again – solidifies learning.
5. Drawing is said to be a good way to actually acquire knowledge because the act of drawing adds another layer of memory encoding our brain.

Interesting things I learnt about drawing:
1. Copying a drawing of a face is much easier if you just turn it upside down! The brain is not hamstrung by the “meaning” of it anymore! What people drew was more influenced by the symbols in their minds than what was on the page.
2. If you look in a crowded room, all heads appear of same size (called size constancy). Try to draw all heads of same size and something will look wrong on the page. Now draw the heads to their actual dimensions and the brain will see the drawing and still see them all sat the same size!
3. Drawing is not hard. Seeing is!!

Some final points from the author:
1. One of the almost inevitable by products of learning new things is the spillover effect of wanting to learn more new things…
2. The most important lesson was that it was never too late to be a beginner

Two thumbs up from me!!!

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12 September 2021

Phase 3 of 4 of the Minimalism drive concluded today

Donated all shoes but one pair of dress shoes, one pair of sandals, one pair for yard work, one pair for motorbiking and two pairs for running. Also gave away all socks and caps but three sets each.

I am not sure I have succeeded in the goal of being able to get everything into a suitcase (Phase 4) but certainly I need less than two suitcases… Will keep pushing the envelope.

Thinking of turning my attention to the library now. Will keep pens and music items since I am passionate about them. But I have 500+ books (paper books) that I am never going to read again.
Need to find a good place to donate them too.

Category: Musings | LEAVE A COMMENT
12 September 2021

A great friend from my past

I think it was first half of 2018 when I first met Katie. She used to work in Roam – one of those co-working spaces that I have used since 2010 or so. I was struck by the fact that she knew a lot about Indian dishes and even cooked a few at home. I think “daal” is what she had mentioned.

Over the years we became great friends and even shared a few Indian lunches brought in thru Grubhub. Eventually she left Roam and move on to bigger career moves.

Was good to see her today. (second time since she left). Caught up with her passion in painting furniture and for some reason I cannot fathom now (she is much younger to me), we talked a lot about arthritis!! Go figure!!

Found out that we share a common connection too – we are both claustrophobic!!

10 September 2021

This is why I believe the world is so small

Sharmila, Jay Jay and myself had lapped up our first drink in Truck and Tap (well, Jay Jay did not drink – he had his kibbles) and decided to go walk for a bit before we sat down for a second drink. We started milling thru the Friday evening crowd – taking in all the Friday evening folks, dogs and small kids. Jay Jay started looking for more and more “marker” spots.

Suddenly, I heard from behind – “Hey, hey! I know you!!” Looked back and saw a very sharply dressed young lady – who we had passed just a few seconds back – seemingly addressing me. Did a quick look back to see if she was talking to somebody behind me – but she continued – “I am Maria”.

I am not terribly sure how our brains put these things in a flash – but right then and there, I immediately knew who she was.

“Maria? Portland airport? That bar? You two were headed for honeymoon to Bora Bora?”

“Yes!!”

“Ryan?” – I now addressed the gentleman next to her with the cutest little baby with him.

That was simply incredulous. Usually, I am the one who recognizes people and remind them (sometimes to their regret) of how we had met before. Also, I had gotten the airport wrong – it was Los Angeles, as Ryan pointed out.

It was way back in an October 2016 evening that I had dropped down dog tired at a bar in LAX airport to grab some Hot Wings. A young couple came and sat next to me. Of course, I had to make friends with them (I said I was tired, I did not say I was out of character). I distinctly remember Maria picking food from Ryan’s plate before he could even get started – and warning Ryan that nothing would change twenty five years later. Sharmila does the same!! (You can read the whole story here).

Maria and I stitched the story together for Sharmila – who, at the end, nodded knowingly – “That sounds like Rajib alright!”

Maria (actually Maria-Angela), Ryan and I had kept up with each other on birthdays. Both Maria and I lost our fathers in the meanwhile. And they moved to Alpharetta to have their first baby! Ryan apparently had mentioned to Maria that one of these days, they were surely going to run into me!!

Well, today was the day that his premonition would come true! I did not recognize them as they passed me! But they did!! In my defense, they look even more beautiful five years later and both had shades on!

In the meanwhile, Brooklyn (their cute daughter) had taken a fancy towards Jay Jay – who was wondering what the whole commotion was all about. I picked up Jay Jay so Brooklyn could touch him and play with him.

What a memorable evening it turned out to be!!

Who knew that simply moving my chair to give a young couple some sitting space at an airport bar would turn out to be another intersection point right in our home town – literally on the other coast – five years later?

Human beings and human relationships are such a wonderful thing.

And so is serendipity!