Author: Shrutin N Shetty

A Forward: What is Butt Dust?

Image: link

I had shared this forward on social media a few years ago, and it popped back up today.

Apart from the innocence, simplicity and being purely hilarious, it is a nice example of the recognition stage of ’empathy’, a term we behaviour and design thinking folk throw around a lot.

Situations we accept in a particular context without a thought, look so different from a child’s perspective.

It helps serve as a reminder that our worldview is not everyone’s worldview.

Enjoy this one:

??
What, you ask, is ‘Butt dust’? Read on and you’ll discover the joy in it! These have to be original and genuine. No adult is, this creative!

JACK (age 3)
was watching his Mom breast-feeding his new baby sister… After a while he asked: ‘Mom why have you got two? Is one for hot and one for cold milk? ‘

MELANIE (age 5)
asked her Granny how old she was… Granny replied she was so old she didn’t remember any more. Melanie said, ‘If you don’t remember you must look in the back of your panties. Mine say five to six.’

STEVEN (age 3)
hugged and kissed his Mom good night. ‘I love you so much that when you die I’m going to bury you outside my bedroom window.’

BRITTANY (age 4)
had an ear ache and wanted a pain killer. She tried in vain to take the lid off the bottle. Seeing her frustration, her Mom explained it was a child-proof cap and she’d have to open it for her. Eyes wide with wonder, the little girl asked: ‘How does it know it’s me?’

SUSAN (age 4)
was drinking juice when she got the hiccups. ‘Please don’t give me this juice again,’ she said, ‘It makes my teeth cough..’

DJ (age 4)
stepped onto the bathroom scale and asked: ‘How much do I cost?’

CLINTON (age 5) was in his bedroom looking worried.
When his Mom asked what was troubling him, he replied, ‘I don’t know what’ll happen with this bed when I get married. How will my wife fit in it?’

MARC (age 4)
was engrossed in a young couple that were hugging and kissing in a restaurant. Without taking his eyes off them, he asked his dad: ‘Why is he whispering in her mouth?’

TAMMY(age 4) was with her mother when they met an elderly, rather wrinkled woman her Mom knew. Tammy looked at her for a while and then asked, ‘Why doesn’t your skin fit your face?’

JAMES (age 4) was listening to a Bible story.
His dad read: ‘The man named Lot was warned to take his wife and flee out of the city but his wife looked back and was turned to salt.’ Concerned, James asked: ‘What happened to the flea?’

The Sunday Sermon this Mom will never forget:
‘Dear Lord,’ the minister began, with arms extended toward heaven and a rapturous look on his upturned face. ‘Without you, we are but dust…’ He would have continued but at that moment my very obedient daughter who was listening, leaned over to me and asked quite audibly in her shrill little four year old girl voice,
‘Mom, what is butt dust?’

The Brave Peacekeepers of Jadotville

The battle known as the Siege of Jadotville, is an almost unbelievable story of grit, leadership, of unwavering loyalty and courage, of calm, and of extraordinary strategy and tactics; especially in the face of deceit, death, incompetence and betrayal.
 
If you haven’t watched the 2016 movie by the same name, you should.
 
Prior to 1959, Belgium held control of the Congo, with exclusive rights on Copper mining, and probably diamond and other mining interests, by way of UMHK, a mining company.
 
In 1959, Belgium announced its plan to grant independence to the Congo by June 1960 (as per an old agreement).
In the months prior to the independence, Belgian and British companies and unions operating in the region got concerned about losing their business interests. They bribed one Moïse Tshombe, a Congolese businessman and leader of a political party in the region, so that policies post independence would be in their favour. Right after independence, Tshombe created the breakaway state called the Republic of Katanga.
 
 Congolese politician and independence leader, Patrice Lumumba won the democratically held election, becoming the first Prime Minister of newly independent Republic of the Congo. His vision was to remove all parasitic foreign presence from the region, to give it and its locals a chance to thrive. This made the local Belgians uncomfortable. Through the UMHK, they further financed Tshombe.
 
A few months later, Lumumba was wrongfully arrested, detained, and for the next month and a half, he was tortured, taken to the Republic of Katanga by Katangan and Belgian officers, and eventually killed and his body gotten rid of. This is despite Soviet pressure on the United Nations to intervene and immediately negotiate his release, the UN lacked the intent to intervene, arguably because individual member countries’ concerns of Lumumba’s increasingly communist views. This surely reminds one of Einsteins thoughts on the infiniteness of human stupidity, where the UN’s inaction traded an opportunity for the region to thrive on its own, in return for continued chaos.
 
 The Belgians then cited unrest in the region, and requested the UN to intervene. This was part of their ploy, with the plan of taking hostage, the UN Peacekeeping party that would be sent. They intended to then trade their release for a way to retain their business interest in the region.
 
Of course, the past few hundred years have probably seen enough such events, with parties driven purely by self-serving interests, irrespective of the costs. This one also included a morally weak and incompetent Irish UN representative, Conor Cruise O’Brien. The UN chose an Irish military company to be sent as the UN Peacekeeping forces.
 
This 155-strong Irish ‘A’ Company had never seen combat before; its youngest soldiers probably in their late teens. It was led by 42-year old Commandant Pat Quinlan. The main UN base was in a place called Elizabethville. Yet, oddly, this Irish ‘A’ Company, was asked to create base in a place near a Belgian settlement called Jadotville. The base was in a highly vulnerable location, an open field with little topographical advantage to the A Company. The Belgian settlers were obviously not welcoming, and the Company had limited supplies, and were provided old (WW-II worthy) weapons.
 
Commandant Quinlan informed his superiors at Elizabethville of the presence of French mercenaries, the lack of supplies, and the high risk of an attack by the local rebels, but was not taken seriously by them. Soon, an unprovoked offensive by another UN Peacekeeping party that took over a Katangese-held radio station in Elizabethville, triggered the larger plot from Tshombe (and his local Katangese rebel forces, funded by the Belgians, and supported by French mercenaries).  And strangely, UN representative Conor O’Brien did not even inform Comm. Quinlan of a possible attack in response to the radio station offensive.
 
So, early on September 13th, 1961, when the Irish troops of A Company were praying in a makeshift church, Tshombe’s men and French mercenaries attacked their base at Jadotville.
 
Any average combatant might have surrendered on that day, given the overwhelming odds of the attacks, and the fact that Katangan rebels had blocked off all routes that could bring additional troops, weapons and ration for these brave 155 soldiers. But not this Company of Pat Quinlan’s. This Company did not have any average combatants.
 
Being a great strategist, Commandant Quinlan had anticipated the risks, and had earlier had his troops dig trenches across the base.
 
Over the next 5 days, countless waves of a total of over 3000 Belgian, French and Rhodesian led Katangan mercenaries attacked the base. And Pat Quinlan and his men defended it, simply because those were his orders. Apart from initial orders from Conor O’Brien to continue to defend the base and the inability to bring in supplies for them, over the next few days, Conor and others at the UN were not even responding to Pat Quinlan’s request for support.
 
Wave after incessant wave of Katangese rebels, French mercenaries, and others, attacked Commandant Quinlan’s base, which he and his men continued to defend. Amidst quickly exhausting food, water, and ammo. Somewhere during those 5 days, a low-flying enemy aircraft was also strafing their base. And all these 155 soldiers had, were old guns and one transport jeep.
 
On the fifth day, Pat Quinlan had to make the tough decision of whether his Company dies here fighting, or to take the rebel’s offer to surrender. Seeing that it was meaningless for his Peacekeeping troops to get meaninglessly slaughtered, and with the UN headquarters still unreachable, Pat Quinlan agreed to an offer to surrender.
 
In those 5 days that A Company defended the Jadotville base against over 3000 mercenaries and rebel fighters, this young Irish Peacekeeping troops defended their base, killed over 300 of the enemy and probably injured over a 1000; while themselves suffering no casualties but only 5 injured soldiers during the entire siege. Such was the brilliance of the strategy, the tactics, and the grit of Commandant Pat Quinlan.
 
Post the surrender, they were imprisoned for a month, before being released.
 
It turned out that a Swedish UN officer had submitted a report to the UN asking them to either send backup or supplies as they were at very high risk of being attacked. This was 12 days before the actual attack. And during that entire duration, the Irish representative at the UN did absolutely nothing to act on the precautionary warning.
 
And if you thought the nightmare of being stuck between the greedy and devious Belgian settlers, shameless French mercenaries, a gutless Irish UN representative, and a dangerous rebel fighters ended there; you are mistaken. It had only begun. The worst came once they were safe back home in Ireland.
 
Their government and army refused to bestow medals for their superhuman courage. And worse, they were shunned by the army and public alike. The people believed they had brought disgrace to them and the country by surrendering.
 
What average mortals did not see or understand, was that this was a devious geo-political issue, and that the A Company was sent on a poorly equipped ‘Peacekeeping’ mission (with emphasis on ‘Peace’), and not as a regular army company. And that the A-Company wasn’t hung out to dry, they were hung out to die, and then ostracized simply because they didn’t.
 
While the late Colonel Pat Quinlan and some of the 155 soldiers were not alive to watch the 2016 movie, or their government creating a small memorial to the siege; the greatness of Pat Quinlan and his soldiers is not dependent on the support, vote of confidence or approval of lesser mortals who were incapable of seeing the situation they were put in, and how they emerged out of, by taking the absolute best path that was humanly possible.
 
If you would like to read more about the happenings surrounding the Siege of Jadotville, try these two books:
  1. Heroes of Jadotville: The Soldiers’ Story – written by Pat Quinlan’s son (Leo) and niece (Rose Doyle)!
  2. Siege at Jadotville: The Irish Army’s Forgotten Battle – by Declan Power

 

Image: source

WT f UX

Last week, I was speaking with a post-grad design student who had just finished her Masters, and was trying to figure out her career options. She mentioned that most job opportunities on campus involved UI/UX related to mobile apps or websites. Something that wasn’t to her liking. My suggestion was not to obsess too much about industry lingo, but instead, try to figure out across industry sectors, what she would (and would not) like to work on instead.
 
In the recent years, industry lingo has made the job market murky, with plenty of keywords being irresponsibly thrown about. A few years ago, a leading digital transformation company with some very elite global clientele got in touch saying they felt I was a good fit for a senior role at their company. A note on the position had words like ‘design thinking’ and ‘innovation’ used generously. I got back to their HR contact to request her to explain the role in more detail to me. Turned out, they were simply looking for someone to help them with UI/UX for the mobile apps they built. I spent some time explaining design thinking, UI and UX, so she would be able to identify potential candidates better.
 
It obviously wasn’t her fault. Many industry sectors are evolving so rapidly for the past many years; with new skills, new terminologies and jargon popping up regularly. So much so, sometimes even human resources of such companies have not been adequately explained what and whom they should be looking for.
 
For starters, one can simply define UX (user experience) as the overarching journey to create meaningful experiences for users. And UI (user interface…design) involves different components of a product or service itself that strive to make better UX possible. Of course, the term UI tends to get used largely in relation to web and mobile or related display contexts, but let that not limit us by way of examples.
 
Let’s consider more traditional products. Take a car for example; some of them have a footrest next to the clutch, that drivers can rest their left foot on when not engaging the clutch, especially on longer journeys (instead of straining the foot by resting it only on the heel). Here, the footrest itself is a UI element that is added to improve the overall UX for the driver of that car (by reducing driver fatigue by way of the footrest feature).
 
There’s good UX and bad UX out there in the world. But here’s an example of arguably the worst kind of bad UI & UX. The seemingly invisible kind.

This switch panel is very old. From long before I knew what design thinking is. If I remember correctly, back in the day, such panels came with fixed square slots. One such slot of two would be used by one 3-point socket, or would accommodate two switches.
 
The left plug is of the refrigerator, and the right one of the microwave oven. While it might appear perfectly normal to us, there is a small invisible UX challenge here. The fridge switch obviously needs to be on at all times. The microwave however, is switched on and off a few times each day. The close proximity of the two switches is where the bad UX layout is at.
 
In an ideal layout, the switches be on either sides of the two plugs, thereby reducing almost any possibility of someone accidentally switching off the fridge while intending to switch off the microwave. And most of us might not even realize something like this when going about our busy daily routines. However, in such cases, our semi-conscious mind tends to be in a state of partial alert whenever we reach out to switch on or off the microwave. Because we do not want to accidentally switch off the fridge, but at the same time, it is too routine a task for us to pay 100% attention to it. Sometimes, we might reach out for the switch while reading something on our phone, or while speaking to someone standing opposite to the switches.
 
The reason we might not realize the layout flaw is because it is subtle. We might accidentally switch off the fridge 1 in 50 times, but for the other 49 times, we are probably in a state of partial alertness, for a task which should not ideally require that alertness of us.
 
As a UX designer or anyone who wants to create a more seamless experience around this, would ensure the fridge switch was either placed away, or access to it was covered or restricted (by placing a partially blocking partition if necessary).
 
Of course, thanks to progress in the switches and related products space, products in more recent years do not have square slots like this one. Instead, you can place switches and plug points anywhere along a line as per your preference.
 
Which brings us to trying to imagine what good UX design might be. It is one or more UI elements that make the experience so seamless for the user, that they get the task done with minimal mental processing, especially with frequent use.
 
In my book, I mention one about TV remote design – how some have buttons so well laid out (UI) that after initially familiarizing yourself with it, you can operate it without needing to look at the remote each time (UX). Well designed remotes follow a simple logical layout that makes it easier for the user to recreate a spatial position of essential buttons in their mind that are built around a central reference point.. A tacky button layout will have an inbuilt resistance, preventing the user from creating (and from remembering) a mental picture of the remote, and therefore being unable to use it without needing to first look for the button.
 
With a glaringly bad UI feature, a user almost instantly knows and doesn’t like it. However, with the seemingly invisible bad UI, the glitch might not be very obvious, and the inconvenience to the user too, might be brief and occasional. In such cases, the user might tolerate the product or experience, never at peace and enjoying it, but also unfortunately not aware enough to change it, unless a better product and the need to replace the old one comes along.

Constraints and the beautiful A-10

Image: source

Contrary to popular belief:

  1. constraints help make better products (or services), and
  2. a good innovative product or service does not need to be expensive

As a young kid, one thing I was good at, was identifying fighter jets just looking at their pictures. Especially American ones. In fact, with American jets, a look at the tail section, canopy or nose and I could tell an F-14 Tomcat from an F-15 Eagle, among many other jets. Each fighter design seemed to speak of a unique personality.

In the past month though, I have been overly fascinated by another American jet from the 1970’s.
The Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II. Or simply the A-10 or Warthog. Developed as a close air support jet during the Cold War, and there dozens of reasons that make the A-10 an exceptionally designed machine.

During the Cold War, there was the need to defend a 50-kilometre region called the Fulda Gap, from a potential Soviet advance. To do so, in addition to tank regiments, the US needed a low-flying jet that could protect its tanks and troops, while being capable of causing sizeable damage to enemy tanks. Flying close to the ground, such a jet also (obviously!) needed to be able to protect its pilot and survive missions. And, just like in WWII, in case of a possible escalation in the Cold War, the winning side would be the one that was designed for quantity (ability to quickly manufacture and deploy, or repair and reuse) as opposed to quality. So, another requirement criteria was to have a jet that could be easily fixed, with affordable and easily available spares.

Imagine you were tasked with designing such a jet. Doesn’t it already sound like quite a limiting list of constraints?

To top it, the Americans had also chosen the main gun that would be used on such a jet (before knowing what such a jet itself might look like). The gun was the 30 mm General Electric GAU-8/A Avenger autocannon; a real monster. Fully loaded and with its feed system, it measured nearly 6 metres, and weighed 1.8 tonnes!

However, what emerged despite this tall-list of requirements (or constraints), was the incredible and unique looking A-10. Every design aspect aligned with its purpose – close air support, protect ground troops & artillery, destroy tanks, protect the pilot, survive being shot at. Placement of its twin turbofan engines reduced its heat signature to enemy missiles. Its cockpit was a titanium tub that protected its pilot from ground fire, even when the plane itself was badly damaged. Its low stall speed and high maneuverability allowed for close range attack. More in the fascinating video at the end of the post.

For now, let’s focus on 3 things:
1. Constraints,
2. Affordability of the solution, and
3. Advantages of a clearly defined purpose (and focus). 

The A-10 was the first and probably the last close air support jet developed by the US. However, the latest jet in their fleet, the F-35 Lightning II is supposed to be a far more advanced plane which, at least in theory, has the ability to replace the A-10s. A direct comparison does sound a bit absurd at first, like trying to compare an old pickup with a Tesla Cybertruck. But that’s for the Cybertruck to defend.

The A-10 came into service in 1977, and despite some discussions to discontinue it in the past decade or two, given its continued relevance, affordable flight time and maintenance; performance upgrades now enable them to serve till at least 2028. The F-35 came into service in 2015, and while expected to be in service till 2070, there are already many concerns, from its initial delay and escalated project cost, to its high flying time and maintenance related costs.

The F-35 has the obvious edge on several specifications when compared to the old 1970’s A-10. Consider the following:

A-10 (introduction to service: 1977):

  • Cost: $3 million (equivalent to $21.2 million today), Unit cost: US$1.4 million ($9.3 million today)
  • Max. Cruise Speed: 741 Km/h
  • Travel range: 4148 Km
  • Fuel economy: 0.68 km/litre
  • Take-off / Landing distance: 945m / 610m
  • Max. Take-off weight / Max. Payload: 22950 Kg. / 7257 Kg.
  • Fuel tank capacity: 7257 litres
  • Flight cost per hour: USD 20,000
    source: link

F-35 (introduction to service: 2015)

  • Cost: between $94 million (F-35A) and $122 million
  • Max. Cruise Speed: 1932 Km/h
  • Travel range: 2778 Km
  • Fuel economy: 0.46 km/litre
  • Take-off/ Landing distance: 168m / 213m
  • Max. Take-off weight / Max. Payload: 31751 Kg. / 8160 Kg.
  • Fuel tank capacity: 10448 litres
  • Flight cost per hour: USD 36,000
    source: link

As the A-10 was meant for attacking ground targets with its gun, it was designed to be able to fly at a slow 222 km/h without stalling. In contrast, while the F-35 can even hover in one position; but being a stealth fighter, is not exactly meant to be too close to enemy sites. The price difference between the two is obviously glaring. The A-10 costs $21 mil, the F-35, $122 mil. While the F-35 is a third more fuel efficient than the A-10, it is almost twice as expensive to fly an F-35 per hour, than the A-10. While the F-35 would certainly be relevant in a high-tech war against, say a China or Russia, for its regular action in the middle east, it is a very expensive overkill.

The A-10 was built in a time of a specific need, with numerous other constraints in mind. And that resulted in an innovative product that not just catered well to those needs, but as a result continues to stay relevant even today.

The F-35 in comparison, was built in more peaceful times, without perhaps a sharp focus on its intended purpose. And the result was an expensive Swiss army knife that isn’t too great in most of the individual specific roles it might be called in for.

To wrap it up simply, constraints can do wonders to the development of a truly innovative solution (the A-10). And just because a solution has exceptional features and capability, does not necessarily mean it is the greatest of all time (F-35), as has been proven by all the doubt looming over the F-35 project merely 6 years into service, while the 44-year old A-10’s service is already being considered for extension to 2040 or beyond.

Check out this incredible video about the A-10.

 Alternate title for this post was: Brrrrrrrrrrrrt

Exploitative Businesses & Divine (and Tech) Interventions

When I wrote ‘Design the Future’ about Design Thinking, it had a brief overview of the behavioural aspects of innovation – from an innovator’s and user’s perspective.
 
There was a mention of nudges (not sure I used the term though).
I have been of the (possibly obvious) view that, as companies get increasingly sneaky, especially when selling ill-health or stuff we don’t necessarily need, that despite how creative their marketing gets, customers too keep pace by becoming resistant to the nudges.
 
I also think the Ben Franklin Effect probably wears off, and that people aren’t exactly suckers to keep giving. Of course, it varies for people, their preferences, value trade-off, etc.
 
Unless business are sincerely trying to benefit or create a good habit in customers, I’ve personally never been a fan of exploitative nudges. Which is why, while some soft drink or fast food ads and initiatives are creative and impressive, you know it isn’t promoting something great in customers.
 
Two recent events seemed to be a sort of divine intervention to nudges and business practices that aren’t exactly in the best interest of customers.
 
First, Cristiano Ronaldo removing Coca-Cola bottles during a press conference at the Euros coinciding with a $4bn fall in the company’s share price. Nothing against the company in particular, but not a fan of global giants that proudly continue to promote ill-health.
 
The Second, email marketing. While useful to businesses including mine to spread the word, it also has become increasingly sneaky in that they closely track numerous user interactions. I recently got an email about an offer. Opened the email because the subject line was interesting, but immediately realized I didn’t need it. Instantly, the next mail appears, asking if there was something missing in the offer (previous mail). That was pushing it.
 
As per developments discussed at Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) that ended about a week ago, Apple will be putting more limitations on email marketing and in-app advertising. They’ll likely be preventing marketers from knowing when users have accessed their emails, among other features.
 
During a recent project with a company trying to create a positive habit in customers, the analytics team had a list of around 140 data points/actions on the app to track. I found some more to take the tally to 200. While the overarching service is beneficial to customers, I wasn’t overly proud of my contribution and faced the moral dilemma of whether we should track so much, or simply create a more effective user experience that might achieve the dual objective: one for the customer and one for the company.
 
Interesting how some businesses offer invasive tech to businesses, and other businesses offer defense against such tech in the form of new features on their products.
 
 

Hyperboles and Statistics don’t Mix Well

Do you use hyperboles often?
I do. Mostly with close friends and family, but when necessary, with clients or my students. Helps convey the meaning or gravity of an idea or situation.

Like when Gordon Murray says something like,
“Why did the chicken cross the road?
Because you didn’t fucking cook it!”

However, when you’re in a responsible position and you’re talking statistics about an important matter, hyperboles (obviously!) do more damage than good.

What’s your favourite or funniest hyperbole you’ve used?

Mine are usually said in the moment, so I don’t really remember them later.
But one I’ve used a few times with clients who create assumptions on a business model and then go on to create multiple layers of assumptions atop those assumptions, I’ve said something like, ‘now, it’s like you’re trying to pick curtains for the windows of your castle in the sky.’

Better Use of Time

Image: source

We humans have always dealt awkwardly with time. Some look for new ways to kill it. Others, better ways to fill it.
And the lockdown has really done a number on how we treat time; most likely amplifying our pre-Covid perception of time. So we have either gotten better at killing time (longer binge watching sessions), or a bit more efficient in some ways, to include the added house work (especially in places like India, where a lot of us were accustomed to having house help do a ton of the housework, but suddenly found ourselves needing to do it through the lockdown).

While I toggle between filling and killing time, I have struggled with trying to better manage it. And while I’ve always been aware of how short life is, the number of deaths in the last year have really highlighted the brevity of it.
Here are 4 habits I’ve been toying with in the hope of managing time better; with varying degrees of success:

  • Instagram on Weekends only: Sometime during the lockdown last year, I saw the crazy amounts of time I was spending daily on Instagram and wondered, “WTF?!” While I would see a good meme or funny pic or a picture that helped me connect two random thoughts together, it still felt like a criminal waste of time. So, I got into the habit of installing the app only on weekends, and uninstalling it on Sunday night. No Instagram during the week! At first, you might feel a restlessness and urge to flip through the app. But that restlessness is not about how important Instagram is to your life. It’s more like life asking you why the hell you’re wasting it on seeing mugshots of people, cars and pets, or funny videos, and not on something more worth your while. Now, I don’t miss Instagram at all, and even forget to install it on some weekends. And either way, Sunday night, it has to go. In case some of you wondered why I take forever to reply to Instagram messages; sorry. 😛
  • No Social media apps: Apart from maybe a WhatsApp, and any work related apps (like Slack, etc.) get rid of any social media type apps from your phone. Nothing to do with weekends, just get rid of them forever. Check them on the laptop if you must. No app, no temptation to keep checking them.
  • Don’t Multitask: You’ve probably heard both sides of this. Multitasking is great. Multitasking doesn’t work. Sometime when I started working in the venture capital sector, I finally realized how scattered my attention is. And given the multitude of work tasks, the only solution for me was to run quickly through different tasks. And to multitask. Sure, it helped to an extent. But in the years since, I have also tried ‘not multitasking’. Over time, my verdict is, ‘don’t multitask’. It does not work, because you are half-assing everything, and no one can ever work on or create something they are proud of, with a multitasking mindset. Instead, set limits of 60-90 minutes to dedicate to each task. Do nothing else at that time. Ideally, not even listen to music. And see the difference. The upside to this is also that you’d hopefully become picky (in a good way) about the type of work you choose to do, since it’s easier to focus on work you love, than just random work. Of course, it is easier said than done, and I struggle with it too, but the few times I can, the results justify the effort.
  • Single Topic Browser Tab: Here’s something that works well if you can stick with it. It is to do with browser tabs. Till recently, I prided myself in the diverse things going on in those 40-50 odd tabs that would be open in my web browser. But I’ve come to realize that it is the equivalent of multi-tasking. So what I do now, is starting with one tab, I limit the tabs to only those relevant to the task at hand at the moment. So for instance, if I was checking LinkedIn, only the LinkedIn page would be open – log in, check, reply to messages/comments, logout. Then if I were to research on some topic, if more than one tab is open, it would all be related to the topic and nothing else. Once I’m done, close all those tabs and move to the next. If checking Facebook is next, same deal – log in, check, logout.

Let me know what habits have been helping you better manage your time.

CoHid

Two days ago, I was reminded of a Medium post I had read in the early days of the pandemic. One of the interesting things about it, was that the author attempted to understand and explain how the Covid-19 virus might be acting; and therefore, what might be working as a line of treatment, and what might not. Whether the details were right or wrong, there was a sincerity in the author’s approach and intention in trying to explain the virus in more detail than most governments, world bodies and news platforms have in all the months since.

You would agree that since early last year, most of us across countries have been subjected to copious amounts of fake or unverified news – be it from country leaders, news outlets, world bodies or the garbage dump that is social media. And some of them have caused plenty of death and damage – from people trying to drink sanitizers to procuring or injecting medicines without it being prescribed to them; or worse, an overwhelmed medical fraternity trying to cope while perhaps governments and world bodies were not being as transparent about what they knew.

What is really surprising (more like concerning), was that in the days after I read this particular article, when I tried to look for it to share with someone, I could not find it. The post was not there, and the particular account on Medium had been suspended. A bit premature, considering nobody had the faintest clue about the virus anyway?

On the upside, two days ago, I realized I had saved a copy of it on an app. Using the post and author details, I even found a ‘True or Fake’ post about it that broadly rubbished it. And I found another article written a few days after the post was published that debunks it too. However, the fact that it was posted on April 05, 2020, and was taken off in 12 hours of being posted, seemed odd, since it was not exactly suggesting witchcraft.

Here are a few highlights from the post itself, that I believe could have been useful in the world’s attempt at dealing with the virus, and could have saved many lives since last year. Now I am not from the biology field, so pardon my attempt to explain this. You’ll also find the full Medium article in the link below.

Here’s what I understood from the Medium article:

Source: https://www.blf.org.uk/support-for-you/how-your-lungs-work/oxygen-and-blood
  1. How oxygen and blood works -oxygen enters the lungs, which has millions of alveoli (air sacs) which are surrounded by blood capillaries. The hemoglobin (iron-containing oxygen-transport metalloprotein in the red blood cells) in blood helps with the exchange – it absorbs the oxygen from the alveoli and carries it in the blood, circulating it across the body. The blood also collects Carbon Dioxide from the body and transfers it via the same process back into the lungs that exhale it.
  2. According to the author, the Covid-19 virus enters the lungs and binds with the heme groups (a metal complex, with iron as its central metal atom that binds and releases molecular oxygen) in hemoglobin, making it unable to absorb oxygen from the lungs and supply it to the various organs. This in turn, leads to multi-organ failure as the organs are deprived of oxygen.
  3. One of the key points of the 8-ish minute read, was that a large problem with Covid, is not that the lungs are incapable of pumping, But rather, that the oxygen going into the lungs is unable to be carried to the organs. 
  4. The picture I got from the description, was that the virus that damaged the hemp groups, created a sort of layer on the alveoli/blood vessel interface.
  5. As the hemoglobin is permanently damaged, the kidneys release Erythropoietin, a hormone that instructs the bone marrow to create new red blood cells with functioning hemoglobin (elevated hemoglobin apparently being one of the indicators of the storm to come).
  6. It got into some more details around how the free iron from the infected hemoglobin is floating around the body, becoming increasingly difficult for the liver to deal with. The liver then secretes the aminotransferase (ALT) enzyme, another important sign to watch for as the patient’s condition grows critical.
  7. He then proceeds to say that the only solution left, is not a ventilator, but maxing out on oxygen given to the patient, even suggesting a hyperbaric chamber if one is available. A hyperbaric chamber is a pressurized chamber where air pressure is two to three times higher than normal air pressure. Used to treat conditions like decompression sickness, gas embolism, carbon monoxide poisoning, etc., the chamber helps the lungs can gather much more oxygen than would be possible breathing even pure oxygen at normal air pressure.
  8. He highlights the importance of Hydroxychloroquine – In Malaria, the parasite targets hemoglobin as a food source, and hydroxychloroquine (or chloroquine) are used to treat the condition. Since hemoglobin is affected in Covid-19 too, the author believes chloroquine would similarly help guard the hemoglobin from being affected by the virus.

This article is important and it being taken down last year is concerning for 3 reasons:

  1. Even though there is some debate around exactly what happens to the lungs with Covid-19, this author’s theory is comparatively similar to the ongoing one about how the cytokine storm caused by the virus and the treatment (steroids) can cause multi-organ failure.
  2. It states that ventilators don’t help at all. Since it isn’t about the lungs not being able to pump (for which you’d need a ventilator), but rather the body not receiving oxygen. Yet countries like India scrambled to manufacture tens of thousands of them when perhaps they should have been looking for something that actually addresses the problem.
  3. It clearly highlights the need for oxygen, which is not a solution in itself, but seems like the last straw that patients need while the main treatment takes effect. Yet countries like India were caught grossly short of medical oxygen during the second wave.

Simply put, the medical community is overwhelmed with just saving lives. So it was up to world bodies, research labs, world governments and their medical advisors and others, to get information, study it, trawl the web looking for potentials and possibilities in the flimsiest of notions, and helping find solutions.

And yet, where we as a world were suggested the most absurd of solutions, from banging utensils, to lighting lamps and chanting absurdities like ‘Go Corona Go’, to having a bright or UV light inside the body to kill the virus, or injecting the body with disinfectants; I think it was criminal on the part of Medium and whoever else involved, to have taken down that post on 5th April, 2020, even though it has gaping holes in the theory or solutions.

Here’s the link to download the article: Covid-19 had us all fooled – Mycahya Eggleston
(I’m sorry there are lines missing on the top and bottom of each page, was quite a challenge to convert it to PDF)

Here are two videos you should check out:

  1. Managing COVID 19 Through Timelines I Dr. Mathew Varghese – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffqYYWY06rs
  2. Top scientists shaken by revelations that Covid isn’t natural but a lab-made virus that ‘escaped’ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OlO8sKRynBY

Don’t Worry, Nothing’ll Happen

What was missing before and during the 2007-08 global financial meltdown, and during the Covid-19 pandemic?
Or during the Spanish Flu? Or in Nazi Germany? Something that perhaps could have prevented the resulting tragedies?

 

In 2002, somewhere on the outskirts of Mangalore, I was part of the way through third-year engineering. One day, we had classes in an adjoining campus building, one we thought was exclusively for junior college which was also on campus.

After class on the first floor, a few of us close buddies were talking about random topic by a large open window. It was the first time we were in that building which seemed empty on that day. One of my buddies, this giant we call ‘Bear’, was suspiciously quiet through the conversation between the rest of us. Known for the occasional prank, it was almost as though he was concocting something sinister while the rest of us spoke. Then, and without warning, he picked me up, and held me outside the large window. It was a sunny afternoon, and I could feel myself slowly slipping out of the Bear’s hands. As I said, ‘WTF’ and asked him to pull me back in, he very calmly goes, ‘nothing’ll happen, man’. Horrified, my head was doing a ‘time-to-eventuality’ countdown, as I struggled without much success to get a grip on his arm. Finally, after the prank probably got boring, he got me back in. And while I was still breathing a sigh of relief, he seemed really calm, almost like he was confident of his estimates on the safety margin he had for that prank. And yet, I knew that I had little grip, and that I was mere seconds away from slipping to the tipping point from where there was nothing Bear could have done to stop the fall.

(Mis)calculations, and (over)confidence is a cocktail we humans seem addicted to. And sometimes we get the proportions right, and sometimes, terribly wrong. And the worst times are where we are overly confident of the proportions despite glaring evidence to the contrary.

This excerpt from the book ‘The Signal and the Noise’ by Nate Silver mentions one such instance. The global financial meltdown of 2007-08, triggered by the collapse of suspicious mortgage-backed securities (MBS) and collateralized debt obligations (CDO). [Excerpt at the bottom of the post]

As per this excerpt, apart from overlooking the obvious risks of these precariously balanced investment instruments, even as late as 2005, S&P conducted a simulation to assess housing prices. It found a potential 20% drop over the next 2 years. But S&P perhaps was content in knowing that their simulation successfully captured the risk. And that was it.

Cut to more recent times. There are far lower chances of a developed or developing nation getting into a full-scale war, than there is of a virus outbreak.

And yet, most countries across the world, many of whom probably have dozens upon dozens of battle possibilities and multiple theatre scenarios, most were caught with their pants around their ankles when Covid-19 hit. From delaying shutting down international borders, to shutting state-borders and trying to contain the spread.

Covid-19 was of course, a virus more dangerous than most the world has seen in recent times. But yet, the countries that did manage to contain it in the months that followed, were not the most confident or the ones most capable or equipped in containing it. It was almost in all cases, those countries whose leaders accepted (either publicly or in private), that they were dealing with something beyond their abilities and experience; so they followed a more basic, first principles approach to tackle the challenge. And emerged largely successful.

As is common knowledge now, there are known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns (Donald Rumsfeld). The quicker we accept the situation when something is outside the realm of our understanding, and resist the urge to apply our standard actions and reactions to it, the faster we can begin to deal with it.

The problem is, these instances keep repeating and will continue to repeat. In our personal lives, and also in more far-reaching world events. We are wired in such a manner, that each time a crisis is approaching or presents itself, we tend to react in the same manner. By wasting time in applying what we know, without attempting to first understand.

 

Answer: Humility

 

Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, and the face of humble leadership the world yearns for.

 

In Memoriam: Mr. Ramesh C Sarin

 

One of my mentors, Mr. Ramesh C. Sarin passed away on the 10th of April this year.

He was already long retired when I first met him. And he had this rare, dignified personality that reflected a wonderful blend of an unimaginably impressive corporate journey that he had had; and plenty of humility and grace. He climbed the ranks at the ITC Group to be the youngest person inducted to the Board, probably at the age of 39, if not a bit younger.

Meetings with him were enjoyable. I wasn’t exactly moving the earth, quite the opposite in fact – struggling to create a niche and presence in the field of innovation and design strategy. My updates to him would be over in a few quick minutes. Then came the wonderful part – a few minutes of conversation with him. While it was no easy task for him to even just entertain me at his age (he was nearing 80 at the time), he would take the effort of not just listening to all I have been up to, but also telling me little stories from his absolutely fascinating corporate life. Like when he was flown abroad on practically no notice for a meeting to discuss a job opportunity; and how the meeting got extended, and how worried his wife had been. Or how satisfying it was, completing the challenging Bhadrachalam Paperboards (it was before he turned 40!). He also kept inspiring, and on several occasions he told me he was glad I held on through challenging times.

There is a very interesting article about him from a few decades ago. It talks about his bold and radical efforts to set Voltas on a more solid growth path. In the article, there’s reference to Mr. Sarin being asked if he had ruffled a few feathers with his shake-up at Voltas. He replied, “Oh by god, yes!” Every time I’ve read that line in the article, I could almost hear Mr. Sarin actually say it. Because I’ve heard him say something along those lines in conversation.

The Voltas article is fascinating in two ways. Despite strong disagreements between him and Mr. A.H. Tobaccowala (his predecessor and then Chairman of the Voltas Board), their interactions and views of each other were extremely dignified. It shows the class of a different time. And more importantly, it offered a glimpse into the clarity of vision, the conviction, and the unstoppable force that Mr. Sarin was, in trying to make whichever company he worked for, the best version of itself. After all, which leader in recent times, has the candour to say something like, “”I have made some terrible mistakes, but I now see growth a head for Voltas: all it needs now for the strategy to work is time.”
[Read the Voltas article here]

He was of the view that good and challenging goals take time, and that it is important to stick with it and not give up. It is from him that I first learnt of the phrase, ‘staying power’; a phrase that continues to be a guiding force for me.

He once suggested I create a brochure for my consulting practice.  On my next visit, he sat patiently and reviewed a few drafts I had taken. He also offered valuable inputs with great attention to detail. ‘Excellence’ seemed to be a word close to his heart. I remember him suggesting it as an addition to a draft. One needs to understand, this was not the word ‘excellence’ being dropped by a starry-eyed youngster, but by someone who had built businesses that excelled, before building other businesses that excelled too. So it was not just someone suggesting a word. It was probably him inspiring with words he had proven the meaning of by example.

It has been my observation that Mr. Sarin possessed a supremely important mindset and trait that was in short supply during his time, and that is exceedingly rare today. A mindset and a trait I completely believe in. It is that companies are built for a purpose, and that it is the duty of those working for the company to channel their efforts towards the best interest of the company. Even if that means locking horns with bosses or top management if they might be shortsighted or somehow not aligned with the company’s best interest. He will remain one of the most ideal role models one could aspire to be like – a visionary and a compassionate leader – one who inspired his troops to achieve the seemingly impossible. 

Over the years, as I trudged along, I would send Mr. Sarin the occasional update, not wanting to trouble him too much with frequent visits. And twice in the past year, he had replied to my emails, telling me to drop by to catch up over coffee. Obviously I would not dream of risking visiting him in the middle of a pandemic, so I told him I will meet him as soon as things are safe again.

Nothing can describe the loss as adequately as Mr. Kanwal Jeet Jawa did in his obituary, where he wrote, “For those who have not had the good fate of knowing Mr. Sarin, and more so for those who have not had the better destiny of having been influenced by him and groomed by him, you have missed something all along but saved from the pain of losing him today.”

I will always remain grateful to him for inspiring me to keep working on getting better than I was.

Staying power: ON

Until we meet again, Mr. Sarin. 🥃

%d bloggers like this: