Category: Life or something like it

The Next Educational Diversion from our normal human behaviour

In my book, I briefly discussed the topic of quality in the world of innovation and automation.

My view was that through the quality revolution in the US and Japan and then other parts of the world, logically back then, someone visualizing the year 2021 might have assumed a world where everyone has quality integrated into their lives. From punctuality to cleanliness, to meeting deadlines and creating high quality products efficiently, and designing efficient processes and having employees adhere to them.

However, general human behaviour and smartphones really did a number on that possibility. Now, a lot of us tend to waste a lot of time mindlessly going down rabbit holes on the web. And how many of us are punctual? We also buy things we don’t need, and spend money we don’t have yet. And our general sense of quality isn’t much to aspire to.

So, what was the upside of the quality revolution, you might ask?
I think it was more of an educational diversion from our normal human behaviour so that we could then get our machines to be efficient instead of us.

And right now, I see something similar happening on the tech development front.

I recently got familiar with the project management software Jira. And user stories. And all I can think is, it isn’t going to be long before AI will handle a good part of all tech development. And we humans would simply have to communicate our tech requirements in a very simple manner to a system that will build it for us.

Tony Stark: Paint it.
Jarvis : Commencing automated assembly. Estimated completion time is five hours.

Imagine something similar with the next website or app you want to build in the coming years.

Between Gender Pronouns and Spelling People’s Names

I had been seeing a lot of social media profiles with a ‘He/Him’ or ‘She/Her’ mentioned alongside the name, but didn’t completely understand the purpose. A close friend recently explained them as gender pronouns. Given in particular the LGBTQ+ community, the world needs to become increasingly sensitive to the different gender pronouns. Affixing it to one’s name could be considered a global effort towards creating more awareness about the diversities and subtleties of gender.

To make it a bit clearer, in the past, the powers that were, often kept pronoun references intentionally (and forcefully) simple (he/him and she/her), irrespective of how an individual identified themselves. However, with greater acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community across the world, we need to move toward a world that recognizes and appropriately addresses different individuals, so as not to be impolite. Currently, for those who don’t identify as male or female, use ‘They/Them/Their’ pronouns. Perhaps with time there might be more unique ways to identify each type in the LGBTQ+ community. The current habit of individuals mentioning their individual set of pronouns online is an effort to help sensitize the world community to pay more attention to gender differences. I have a lot to learn about this myself, but thought I’d share the little I know. And a question at the end.

In recent times, the world has become increasingly careless about people’s names – from not capitalizing the first letter, to getting the spelling wrong, or worse still, not realizing after having spelt it incorrectly (to be able to apologize and correct the mistake). Relatives sometimes misspell my name. And if you remove the last ‘n’, it is a girl’s name here in India.
Two amusing personal incidents came to mind around this.

I was once moderating a panel discussion around design thinking at a conference, and the organizers had managed to misspell my name on the placard and not realize it. I’m not affected by my name being misspelt, so I simply turned the placard away from the audience, lest they think that was my name.

The second was even funnier. One morning, I get a feedback request call (can’t remember for what service), the conversation goes something like this:

Woman: good morning, ma’am, I’m calling from XYZ business. This is a feedback call. Is it Ms. Shruti?
Me: [wondering wtf] Hi. I think you mean Mr. Shrutin. That’s me speaking.
Woman: [very confused] Sorry sir, is Ms. Shruti there?
Me: I think you have the name wrong. It is Shrutin, and I am the one you are asking about.
Woman: [even more confused] But it says Ms. Shruti?
Me: Ma’am, do I sound like a woman to you?
Woman: No sir!!
Me: Then try and understand this, the name is Shrutin, your rep might have misspelt it as ‘Shruti’, and someone entering it into your system therefore might have conveniently added a Ms., and you are looking at it and asking for a Ms. Shruti.
Woman: [sounding relieved] Oh sorry. Got it sir. I’ll make the necessary change. So sorry again.

Which brings me to my question:

In a world that, in part thanks to social media and also our own aimless hurriedness that causes us to pay less attention to people’s names (even if they are customers or guest speakers); how easy (or not) might it be for us to start recognizing gender based pronouns and addressing people accordingly?

– Shrutin Shetty [He/Him]

Behavioural Law

Classic economics started off factoring psychology and behavioural trends and shortcomings (biases) into economic understanding. However, through the ages, economic concepts and policies were built on the assumption that humans are rational beings. This was like putting a blanket over our susceptibility to biases and our irrational decision-making tendencies.

It took the path-breaking decades of work by 2002 Nobel Laureate (Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences) Daniel Kahneman, Amos Tversky and a few others, to identify and document common human mistakes that spring from our heuristics and biases. This led to the importance of the field of behavioural economics which should ideally replace all economic skillsets.

Going by that logic, I did a cursory check on the LLB syllabus in India and that at Harvard Law School. I also came across research papers and articles around behavioural law at institutes like Yale, Harvard, Cambridge. However, a generic search for Indian LLB syllabus and the Harvard Law curriculum did not show up any subject dedicated to psychology, behaviour, or behavioural law. Stanford mentioned it. However Yale Law did have a fair bit of behaviour covered.

Harvard Law curriculum

While the Harvard program had some 55o study modules, and while they certainly might be including aspects of behavioural law, the subjects list did not include anything related to it or behaviour, despite the importance one might associate with it.

One would imagine that given all the business and personal collaborations and disputes that occur across the world, institutes should have at least by now made human behaviour, behavioural economics and psychology a key part of learning.

You might wonder what it might include? While I wouldn’t exactly know how, I do know that legal professionals are well trained in attack and defense, both in documentation and in fighting cases. And they are adept at understanding the opposition for defense or attack; and identifying potential risk scenarios well into the future. However, armed with behavioural knowledge, they might be able to influence collaborations and solve disputes amicably simply with a better understanding of behaviour and therefore a better choice of words and strategy perhaps. One that could benefit all related parties themselves fairly in the short term, but also steadily influence a more collaborative human race in the longer term.

Many of us have seen those videos of Providence, Rhode Island’s chief municipal judge, Francesco “Frank” Caprio, who metes out ‘human’ and ‘humane’ justice. Someone receiving a judgement from him, or someone simply being spectator to his judgement might have a very different view of humankind. One that is compassionate and optimistic. In a world itching to accuse and punish, imagine the mindset change an entire global legal fraternity might bring about, if they had the superior maturity of Judge Frank Caprio.

Suicide Watch

Suicide Watch

Trigger Warning: This post contains thoughts on whether it is possible to identify people who might suddenly be at risk of self-harm or suicide. If this is not a topic of interest, or you are currently not in the frame of mind to read anything stressful, please close this tab.

Many of us experience helplessness when we hear of a suicide. Irrespective of if it was someone we knew, a celebrity, or a businessperson. Especially perhaps, if it was a student, a helpless farmer, or even an unknown name from some obscure corner of the country or the world. The feeling of helplessness still hits many of us.

Last week, there was a brief discussion on chat between some close friends and me. One friend was trying to find cues in old interviews of Sushant Singh Rajput. To see if there were tell-tale signs in them of any impending suicide intent. The authorities were right in saying one should not speculate based on almost no information. The helplessness, however, forces us to look for answers. To find an explanation that would turn helplessness into sadness or anger, or both. The mind prefers either to the state of not knowing coupled with helplessness.

It is also human tendency, to subconsciously look for early warning signs the person might have exhibited.
Maybe it is just our helpless attempt to undo the past.

A few things we need to remember. Firstly, depression is not the only cause of suicide. There are many other causes. They include psychosis and momentary lapses of reason (sometimes induced or aggravated by alcohol or drugs). As are helplessness in situations (a sudden financial loss, etc.), or a mistake. Native Japanese practiced Seppuku to preserve honour or as a form of self-punishment for serious offenses. Secondly, depression itself can have numerous underlying causes for it. And it is not easy for family, friends or outsiders to conclusively arrive at one or more causes for someone’s depression.

A lot of people suffer from a variety of concerns. From regrets about the past, social pressures, anxieties about the future, among many others.

Many simply learn to live with it. Some becoming increasingly numb to life itself. Others probably do not, and toy with self-harm. Some effects could range from binge eating to excessive drinking or drug abuse. And some could manifest as suicidal tendencies. That said, this post is not about identifying or helping address those suffering from depression.

The objective here, something I’ve wondered about, is a possible way to spot someone who might be close to a breaking point in dealing with their personal battles or thoughts or life itself. To see if it there is a way to identify those who might be at risk of self-harm. And to provide an intervention if possible. So that a good life would not be lost because of an unrelenting ecosystem or one’s condition or difficulties in trying to cope with it.

While one can only hope that people suffering from depression are getting the professional support they need, in my limited knowledge, I’d categorize those at risk of self-harm into two categories:
(i) those who have such thoughts from time to time, walking a tightrope; and
(ii) those who may not have considered self-harm, but a sudden change in their ecosystem suddenly makes it an option they consider

My thoughts are around possibly addressing the second kind. If one knows someone who is going through a challenging phase, and one hears of a case of suicide or self harm from someone either known to those people, or hailing from the same or similar professional field or having some other factors in common, one must consider the possibility that these people might be at risk. You could either directly or indirectly reach out even if just to check. Ideally without directly broaching the topic.

There are a few reasons I believe news of self harm by someone sharing common ground could increase risk of self-harm in some people. Firstly, in case of the same or similar professions, many people could be going through similar challenges due to either an employer or a sector slowdown or some other impact. The hundreds of farmers that have sacrificed their lives is a grim example of this. An inefficient sector with limited government support, irrational weather, scavenging money lenders and middlemen, all constantly fuel the recipe for disaster.

Similarly, a student going through a rough phase might be holding on. But on hearing of other instances of students causing self-harm, a previous never considered option might suddenly sound like a respite. Secondly, a common thread connecting two strangers could also cause one to cause self-harm on hearing about the suicide of the other. There have been a number of suicides among common citizens upon hearing of the death (even of natural causes or illness) of their favourite politician or movie star. Here, the thread linking the two is the admiration for their revered minister or actor.

Consider this: Say you had to work on a task that required a good measure of focus and skill. Would you have a greater chance of succeeding if you had an audience cheering you on? Or if the same audience repeatedly cautioned you about the risks of failure?

I think I know your answer. Similarly, words and actions of people have subconscious effects on us. More so if we share some commonality with them. A hostile crowd in a foreign playground might not affect us half as much as a hostile crowd on our home ground.

So, what can we do to intervene? While not easy, one can sometimes spot people in one’s circles who are going through a challenging phase. Even if they don’t directly tell us. We could then try reach out to them or increase the support ecosystem for them. To try and lighten the burden or ease off the scales, which might be at dangerous levels. Or we could refer or bring to them the professional support needed.

Here’s an earlier post, Death and the Maiden, where I shared some variables that might compel someone to cause self-harm.

And here’s a very well thought out post you must check out. It’s by The Depression Project, about telling signs.

Thoughts and ideas welcome!

Jane Elliott

Jane Elliott

Jane Elliott: image

Heard of Jane Elliott?
 
She’s an American schoolteacher and an anti-racism activist. She is especially famous for her truly visionary “Blue Eyes-Brown Eyes” exercise that she conducted in her classroom, 50 years ago.
 
Get a quick overview of her Blue Eyes-Brown Eyes exercise here. I first came across this a few months ago and thought it was exceptional.
 
Now, Jane recently spoke about world maps, racism, and a bit about her childhood. The stuff about maps really shakes, or at least shook my foundation about maps. Like me, you might just ask yourself what in the world is actually true, if something as fundamental as a map could be distorted that much.
 
Check out the interview here.
 
What an inspiration, this woman is!

Religious Fashion

Religious Fashion
 
Was chatting with a friend about religion.
 
I randomly correlated religion with fashion. Or people’s dressing sense, if you will.
People either have their own style, or in most cases, they follow one of the broader trends or safer dressing styles.
Which is all good.
 
Problems only arise when one or a few of them, for no reason, starts having a problem with what someone else is wearing.
If, or as long as that does not happen, everyone’s content with what they’re wearing.
 
If only that were as simple, with clothes or religion. Or race.
 

Bitter Gourd Chips

Don’t worry, this is not a lock-down, culinary achievement post!

I recently had these bitter melon/gourd (karela in Hindi) chips. An interesting paradox – using an ingredient that’s great for health and known for reducing cholesterol, and then deep frying it is fascinating. But the result, are chips that are far better than potato wafers or banana chips. And you might even get this subtle sub-conscious reassurance that you’re eating something healthy.

Can We Do Better than CSR?

Can We Do Better than CSR?

In India, Section 135 and Schedule VII of the Companies Act (2013) relate to corporate social responsibility (CSR). For a few years now, it requires companies clocking over a certain turnover or profit, to spend 2% of (their three-year annual) net profit on CSR activities each financial year.

Allotting profits to CSR in general, and to the environment in particular however, seems more a post-mortem thing to do. Especially now that we humans have brought the world to the brink, with regard to the climate, animal and plant life.

Because that is how CSR seems to be designed. Conduct business in any manner you please. And at the end of the year, give 2% towards corporate social responsibility initiatives. And you are absolved of ecological sins committed inadvertently or otherwise, in the course of business. The 2% seems like a ‘no-questions asked’ opportunity for redemption, irrespective of the damage done.

What if, instead, companies could be made to be responsible from the time they start business? If every action, employee, step and process for an existing business was also committed to align with environmental needs?Not in a punitive way. But maybe a set of guidelines that businesses could introduce towards becoming more holistically responsible from the starting line. Perhaps the corporate ministry could help.

What if companies could be made to be responsible for every action, employee, step and process?

Patagonia, the American outdoor clothing company. Founded in 1973, it has been striving to align increasingly with environmental needs. It commits 1% of total sales to environmental groups, and a few years ago, donated 100% of its Black Friday sales to environmental organizations. This company should provide for some inspiration. A close friend recently shared this interesting article about its founder, Yvon Chouinard, and his views on sustainability, and why it’s not too late to save the planet. Interesting read.

Build responsibility into the corporate or startup value system and into everyday actions of all employees of the company. That’s the only way we can collectively grow without triggering global catastrophes each year.

Monte Fitz Roy, a mountain in Patagonia

If you own, manage or work at a company, and are grappling with a complex challenge or are in need of innovation for growth, get in touch. More here.

And you might find my book, ‘Design the Future’ interesting. It demystifies the mindset of Design Thinking. Ebook’s on Amazon, and paperbacks at leading online bookstores including Amazon & Flipkart.

Where Do We Go Now?

Where Do We Go Now?

Google’s AdSense program let’s publishers or website owners have relevant ads show up when users visit those sites. Google earns revenues (via their Google Ads – previously AdWords platform) from businesses wanting those ads showing up to relevant customer groups. In turn, they pass on some of that revenue (based on ever-changing conditions!) to the site owners for using their space for displaying ads.

Google’s all-encompassing know-how of users and their searches and interests makes all this possible and seemingly co-exist well.

A few years back, I had applied for Google AdSense for my blog. Thankfully for me, they had replied with the inability to take me into the program. According to them, my blog covered a diverse range of topics – something not suited to their business model that prefers everything in buckets. Highly specific, highly siloed topics or themes. If only humans were that basic and simple.

While probably a lot of people are aware of the underlying problem with this, it seemed to get highlighted after a recent meeting with an old friend.

This friend was telling me about how he and a friend were keen on creating a blog that shared information around good health. And so, they collaborated and got working on it. One had a tech background, and handled site development and Google services they hoped to integrate and earn from. My friend, good with content, had already researched and created several articles around the theme of their still-being-developed site.

Then, apparently this June, Google altered their AdSense program, leading popular healthcare related sites and services to see a near 50% drop in web traffic to their sites. The result. These two friends have at least temporarily shelved the project.

Imagine people with keen interest or even a passion for certain fields or topics. And their humble hope to share their knowledge with the world, and to learn from it. To connect with like-minded people in other parts of the world. To interact and grow. And perhaps be remunerated for their effort, even if moderately. These people have now often been basing their decision to continue in that field or not, based on Google’s whims.

As a kid, I once heard of how in China, the government has a say in the profession you pursued. And it was independent of your educational background. I thought it was highly illogical.

Yet here we are. Unconsciously doing the same thing in accordance with the wishes of ever-changing algorithms of a for-profit company.

***

If you own, manage or work at a company, and are grappling with a complex challenge or are in need of innovation for growth, get in touch. More here.

And you might find my book, ‘Design the Future’ interesting. It demystifies the mindset of Design Thinking. Ebook’s on Amazon, and paperbacks at leading online bookstores including Amazon & Flipkart.

Navigating Airport Security

Navigating airport security… A cartoon strip..

If you own, manage or work at a company, and are grappling with a complex challenge or are in need of innovation for growth, get in touch. More here.

And you might find my book, ‘Design the Future’ interesting. It demystifies the mindset of Design Thinking. Ebook’s on Amazon, and paperbacks at leading online bookstores including Amazon & Flipkart.

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