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The Problem With Failures

success-failure-sign

We have books, blogs, and well-spoken folks telling us that the key to success is failure. We have catchy phrases (“fail early, fail often”), and endless parables pointing to failure as the unpleasant yet necessary precursor to success: JK Rowling and her repeated attempts to get the first Harry Potter book published, or the huge list of games that Rovio released before Angry Birds launched (get it?). Yet all too often in the same breath that we laud the necessity of failure, we malign it by placing all the attention on success as the only measurable outcome worth celebrating. Failure? Sure. But only so we can step on it on the way to success, say we went there, and then wipe it off our soles.

I attend talk after talk celebrating successes and touting the benefits of learning from your mistakes. But almost never do I attend talks that simply talk about failures– that celebrate the really human side of what it is that we do. Yet it is those talks that have taught me the most, validated me the most, encouraged me the most. Don’t failures, as learning experiences and as a crucial part of everyone’s journey, deserve celebration on their own merits? Why do failures only gain value when they lead to huge success?

Even the sign post in the picture above has “success” and “failure” pointing in different directions.

Our society seems to separate True Success–success built on failures–from True Failure– failure without success. Yet if failures are worthless unless they are punctuated by success, then success is reduced to the only thing of value in this equation.

That’s a mistake.

We tell our loved ones and mentees that failure is necessary, yet we live in a world that doesn’t prepare anyone for that necessity. We have a grade-school system, a post-secondary system and even a professional system that prides relative position on a Bell curve, rewarding failure not with reflection and learning, but with a drop in relative status. We reward risk unfairly, over-celebrating successes instead of the risk-taking itself, and over-punishing failure, criticising the very bravery that gave rise to the risk-taking in the first place.

As human beings, we’re training ourselves to avoid failure, even if it is a good learning experience, because almost everything else in life slaps our hands for trying. If your failures don’t result in success, then your failures are Real Failures.

It’s scary. And instead of helping one another face that risk and realize that failure is not the end of the world. Most of us cower ourselves in the face of it. What if our failures aren’t good enough?

The risk-reward system in society is broken and we need to fix it.

While I suspect the problem is universal, I think the solution is varied and complex, and depends on the domain. Yes there is right and wrong in some contexts, and the engineers that built my bridges had better be right. But these “hard skills” are not what I’m talking about– it’s the soft, squishy other stuff.

Consider project management. The art of project management is not in your tools or rules, but in the soft skills and the ability to assess a situation for the people within it (including yourself) and the complex interplay that naturally arises. It’s in knowing who you are and how you fit into that puzzle (read this excellent piece by Rami Ismail and if you have time then read this too) , establishing a trajectory and space for personal growth while responding to a need/problem.

It’s also in the things that cause us to dig deep, embracing our mistakes and things that aren’t perfect about ourselves. It’s in understanding that sometimes, despite your best efforts, you still fail and that doesn’t make you a bad person.

For every single failure, there is something to learn. If you disagree, you are probably still caught up in the sting of that failure or not yet ready to learn from your mistakes. And that’s OK. Believe me, I understand. I’ve spent more time in that state than I like to remember. Part of how I get out of that fugue is by having a support structure in place to remind myself that I’m not a failure, but that only my idea or plan or whatever failed.

That’s a huge difference.

The other part is that I celebrate taking the chance in the first place. And then I spend time forcing myself to consider all the good things that have and could come out of this failure that would not have happened had I succeeded. It takes practice, but you do get better at it.

There are reasons for every failure– not in a point-and-blame sense, but rather in the recognition that you are part of a much larger system of people with goals and ideas and perceptions and experiences. Those who seek to understand other perspectives, as well as seek to understand where their own perspectives come from and the forces at work on them are the true leaders in life.

We’ve all had situations where we’ve reacted strongly, only to later realize we were reacting on the basis of incomplete information. The problem is your model is always going to be incomplete. If we had all the information, all the time, then all situations would reduce to an equation– a right or wrong situation for which a simple ‘X’ or checkmark would suffice.

Instead, embrace this incompleteness as it opens us to a life of endless learning, and a world full of rich and wonderful people and ideas. It removes from us the pressure of always being right, and frees us to not only fail, but to truly explore. Most importantly, it asserts our respective places as valid and valuable contributors in society.

The measure of a person comes not in their successes, but how they react in the face of failure.

And that is a lesson worth celebrating.

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An Exemplary Orkut Testimonial

As a techie, you’re asked to steer clear of the cliché “end of an era” as much as you can. On social networking websites, though, it’s used by anyone and everyone to describe anything and everything, regardless of whether they really feel the words. I’m going to stick my neck out and say today really is the end of an era. For me, at least. Because I came to know today that:

Orkut’s dead.

Well, almost dead. Google’s sounded the death knell for what was pretty much its first social networking website, started as a 20 percent project by the company. As Orkut shuts down, my teenage years are officially coming to an end. I’ve grown up.

For the past few years, Orkut was just a website I’d visit maybe once a month on a boring weekday afternoon at work, to read old posts and smile to myself. Somehow everything was okay on Orkut, all my friends were on Orkut, I was still a scrawny teen on Orkut.

The truth is, I wouldn’t be half of what I’m today if it wasn’t for the website. I went from being a rather quiet, slightly weird loner in real life to being an outspoken(not), confident(definitely, not) person thanks to it. As I started to spend longer on Orkut, I realised I wasn’t the only rather quiet, slightly weird loner who had similar tastes.

My love for metal thrived on Orkut, people recommending some really kickass music to me over time. Most of these people who lived for making sure everyone gave an honest hear to their favourite bands are still around in my life. These happen to be some of the most genuine, like-minded, happy bunch of people I’ve ever met.

Communities of Orkut, something that Facebook has tried to ape and failed spectacularly at, is where these brilliant people were sitting, waiting to be found. Metallica India, my love, how can I forget you. I think I spent most of my waking hours reading threads and threads on the community, making lifelong friends, getting into flame wars, trolling “n00bs”, defending the band. Oh, the countless hours we spent making plans to defend the place overrun by Megadeth fanbois and the Brazilian trolls. Excuse me while I wipe a tear trickling down my face.

Only Twitter in recent times has managed to come close to what Orkut was for most of us – coming in contact with more like-minded folk. Even so, people on Twitter are far snarkier than Orkut guys ever were. There’s a shit ton of more abusing, personal attacks (rape threats, good God!) and all round holier-than-thou behaviour.

Or maybe, just maybe, I’ve grown up. I’m not the weird looking “dude” struggling with acne problem, who rushed back home from college in order to stick it to Megadeth fans anymore. I don’t sneak up on cute guys’ profiles in order to add them as crushes anonymously, I don’t discuss music for long hours, I don’t trade scraps, I don’t overthink testimonials.

Orkut, I owe you my friends, my relationships, the ability to deal with idiots, the ability to appreciate music; my adolescence. This is my final testimonial for you, the most heartfelt one I’ve ever written. I will miss you.

Arrivederci.

Being a Couch Potato

I was 3 years old when two men with long and thick wounded cables started fixing our television at home. My 10 year old sister was happily scampering about the drawing room. Being the younger sibling of a total fours, I kept running after her, clueless. My father took those two men to the roof and then they started fixing the antenna for some reason. When we came back downstairs to the drawing room, there was something about the television that put a broad grin on everybody’s faces. We had a cable connection!

It was pretty rare to have a colour TV with a cable connection back then. My sister would take charge of the remote controller while I’d sit beside her and try to understand what those 15 odd buttons meant. We slowly moved on from Byomkesh Bakshi to shows like Grihalaxmi ka Jinn and Rajni on Zee TV. There was about half an hour they dedicated entirely to the recent Bollywood hits. I picked up most of the songs from there. ‘Oh Julie Julie Julie tu ladki nahi mamooli’ became ‘Oh Julie Julie Julie tu ladki hai ya mooli’, thanks to my limited vocabulary.

Now our cable guy was quite the God of all cable-wallahs in Tawang(Arunachal Pradesh). He’d print the entire programme schedule in tiny booklets and distribute it to every home at the beginning of the month. So my sis would carefully teach me how to find the shows worth watching under the respective channels with the correct time. We’d highlight important shows like WWF, Tom and Jerry, Dennis the Menace, Small Wonder, The Three Stooges, Different Strokes, Hum Paanch and the likes and important movies like Hatim Tai (starring Jeetendra), Jurassic Park and other new Sunny Deol movies, primarily because my sister was a huge fan of his and remains one till date. Thankfully, we now have Tata Sky that saves us the trouble of memorising the TV schedule in addition to the textbook rote-learning.

My mother found it rather interesting that she could call the cable guy any time and ask him to show one of those old Rajesh Khanna movies (her childhood crush) on the local Prime TV channels. They’d both decide the time and the mothership would watch all the movies of her choice everyday when she was free. All this with no extra charges as opposed to Tata Sky’s Showcase.

As we grew older, Sony stopped airing the shows we liked, Star Plus started off with the famous saas-bahu saga which meant that the remote now remained snugly tucked under the mother’s pillow. Arguing for the remote was a lost cause now. We sat with her daily, dealing with problems like 1000 crore business deals between suited and booted business men who seemed to spend more time with their love interests than at work, mental conversations between banarsi saari clad women bathing in gold, polygamy, vamps and gradually lost our childhood to them.

I became a couch potato again with shows like Shri Sifarishi Lal, Yes Boss and Office Office on SAB TV. Suddenly there was Sarabhai vs Sarabhai on Star One. Healthy comedy was back and how! And then the wise man’s words came true again. All good things came to an end. We were reduced to watching scripted reality shows, more reality shows, family drama, more family drama, some more family drama. So much so, that music channels became entertainment channels and started airing unreal teenage shows. Cartoon network and Disney were hijacked by Japanese characters that had a common superpower of getting on your nerves within nanoseconds.

I still watch TV. I don’t even know if I can call that watching TV, because I barely look at it. I only turn it on to provide background music while I’m on the laptop downloading torrents to better shows so that the silence doesn’t creep me out.

Tales from a Dead Man

There’s no grace in reflexes. When they kick in, you don’t bow out like a ballet dancer. You squirm, you flail your hands, and you scream.

And you scream some more when the will to live against all odds overpowers all your senses and there’s no one to help you. There’s also no grace in fighting for your life when you’re all alone.

Somehow, his own screams felt like they came echoing from a place far away. His voice traveled across cities, cutting through trees and rivers, the concrete jungle and all the honking and blaring of the traffic.

But that could also be because he could not hear or say a thing while he was underwater. His brain was roaring, fighting to keep itself alive but his body seemed to have revolted against all sense, singing its own tune.

They say that when you’re dying, you see your whole life flash before your eyes. Truth is, when you’re dying – especially when you’re drowning – you can really think of just one thing: Air.

Almost against his own better judgement, he gasped and let in a stream of salty water into his lungs. After a moment’s relief, he felt a searing pain shoot through his body, hinting at him that it was time to let go or go down ungracefully.

The second thing that usually comes to your mind when you’re dying is, “I hope I’m remembered when I’m gone and people knew me for who I was.”

He knew that there would remain Mr John Doe in all files. No one would know his name, they wouldn’t know whether or not he was an honest, upright citizen. Whether he was charitable, whether his friends adored him, whether or not he had a family or whether he loved with all his heart.

No one thinks of emotions when they see a rotting body on a cold mortuary slab. So he let go of who he was and let the water swallow his identity.

A Lazy Sunday

I’ve missed few months of blogging and that’s okay because sometimes it’s okay not to have anything to say. Instead of forcing something, I just decided to leave blogging alone for a bit.

It occurs to me that I need to do something restorative for not only my mind, but my body as well. I ache mentally and physically these days, more than I’ve ached in the past, anyway. That’s not okay. It’s never been okay, but I think I was able to do enough to sweep my stress under the rug previously.

Lately, I’ve been highly emotional. Today has seen its fair share of jags and internal shouting matches with my demons. It’s exhausting. I need a vacation from myself if that makes any sense at all.

Maggi: The Noodles We All Loved

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How did Maggi take over our lives and become such a preferred “anytime snack”? This can probably be attributed to the fact that Maggi is one of those brands that gets you when you are really young, and more or less stays in your kitchen cabinet for the rest of your life, since your kids would go through the same thing, at a different time in your life of course. Strikingly, you may also find similar behavioural patterns in cigarettes or chocolates; fortunately, the only difference is that Maggi wasn’t such an addiction or looked down upon by society or calorie Nazis.

When I was younger, I ate Maggi just to join a particular Maggi club. They made me mail them logo cut-outs from Maggi packets and in return they’d sent me little cardboard toys that would fly with much effort. Kids nowadays eat Maggi even without such innovative incentives, since it’s the first thing they learn about their kitchen after getting to know where the Bournvita, or pack of biscuits is stored (Yes, I still think that Maggi can rebound itself back to the Indian market without breaking our trust). I’m sure that can be exciting to some age groups, and that’s definitely more like an intellectual upgrade to kids who would otherwise spend their time dressing up Barbie dolls.

Leaving breakfast cereal aside, Maggi was the only ready-to-cook food that most parents let their children eat with very little fuss, since they probably consider it a better alternative to living through the risks of letting them eat at the road side Bhel or Dhabeli wala where the guy just mashed potatoes with the same hands that went down other “inappropriate” places a few minutes ago, and go down there multiple times through every single working day otherwise. Besides, they made a little kid go “Taste bhi! Health bhi!” in their ad. And Maggi screams of how healthy it was.. With Calcium, Atta et al mentioned all over their covers anyway. And if that wasn’t enough they decided to run a campaign showing passport photos of normal, healthy looking people, like the ones from the flat next door, on their covers describing how they like their Maggi. Smart idea, considering there are similar situations where smoking a cigarette, drinking tea or eating a chocolate bar fits in just perfectly instead of eating Maggi.

Leaving aside the fact that the marketing dept. and the agencies were obviously doing a great job in making you believe that Maggi was really healthy, deep down in your intestines, you did know it was not. The real reason for Maggi and its awesomeness was our laziness, and not wanting to cook anything else at that hour. You know, every time someone comes home hungry late at night, the google recipe cook in you dies a little. THAT is where Maggi comes in.. And then at some point in time also came this discovery of adding vegetables and various other ingredients to simply make the Maggi taste better.

Also, Maggi has a predefined taste. So, WYEIWYG (what you expect is what you get). Unlike calling for Biriyani from the new restaurant one hungry afternoon only to find that it had too much salt or the delivery boy visited 10 other houses before finally blessing you with his visit.

And then, one of the major reasons that Maggi worked for some people was because they simply don’t know how to cook anything else. And they do not know how to cook anything else mostly because Maggi fits in from time to time preventing them from ever broadening their horizons.

And finally, with Google, Facebook, and the whole lets eat out or order online thing coming in to play, Maggi, even though was invented at a time when there was no convenience of online shopping or google, somehow went well with this generation that swears by everything that quick, and easy-to-cook. Easily DIY.

That is where the problem starts. If you are India based, and haven’t been living under a rock, you know that Maggi’s instant noodles have been banned in most of the country. Whether the claim of lead are legit or not, I salute the ban. As, let’s not forget it, Nestlé has also been slapped with providing misleading information. Something that the Swiss giant is no stranger to (they should have been slapped when they came up with that Taste Bhi, Health Bhi line). Simply put, Nestlé is a highly unethical company. One that went as far as declaring that access to water is not a basic right people have…access to WATER, of all things!

When the Maggi controversy blew up, it was like breach of trust for all Indians. Its like an old friend has cheated you. Many grew up eating Maggi and have fond memories of it. Many roadside dhabas and hotels thrive on Maggi. In cold climates where food is scarce, often a pack of Maggi comes handy. There are eateries who serve only different varieties of Maggi.

I was not swayed by the rage that Maggi was created in India in early 1980s. It just burst on to the scene like a meteor. Ofcourse, in our family thinking about buying such food was blasphemous.

A few years ago there was a controversy that popular soft drink has pesticide traces in it. However, it died down. Then worms were found in Nestle’s popular chocolate brand. There was lot of firefighting and it was managed.

A company that has for a long time weaselled its way into developing market creating products to target them specifically, proof being the
infamous Noodles ( they exist only in India and Malaysia). They made a history of weaselling their way into markets they consider third world country. Now tell me that you aren’t just a tiny bit happy to see them being under the earth and fire of one of the market they must have considered a third world nation, easy to exploit. India (My country, My country), I applaud you ( overlooking our interests to protect our community), and please keep going at this fraudulent multinational with all you’ve got. That this ban hurts the company is real good. The problem is at they sank their claws deep, so deep that in India, the noodles have become synonymous with a quick fix comfort food with no equal, a tiffin’s favourite and a hungry student’s staple with no perceived equal other than other brands of instant noodles.

To conclude, if you read the pointers above, all of them point towards the same notion- We are lazy, hence we don’t care what we eat as long as it’s filling the tummy. We loved to eat Maggi. And Even after reading this amazing blog post, or conclusive report on why we love Maggi so much, if you still end up making Maggi tonight ( hidden or smuggled stock purchased in a black market) because you only genuinely crave for the Maggi Masala taste, it only means the horrific news, ads and the photo mug shots on the cover don’t mean anything to you. You my friend are a true Maggi lover. And a lazy person too.

P.S.- I happen to be in possession of 10 Maggi packs. I would not mind to sell it at a 50% profit margin. Send an encrypted email if you want one.

Ciao

Shubham

Last Days of Engineering

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Before I start I would like to tell you that it’s a long passage and I deserve to write it long because you know I had spent 4 years in here 😉

It’s the dream which I inculcated very early in my 2nd semester(or was it 1st itself ?) “when will I complete it ?” . Yeah, it meant the duration of 4 years. That dream grew rusty and a bit more naggering (I know that’s not a word but that is exactly what I want here) by the passage of 3 more years. And today, when I got up I got the pleasure to fulfill this dream of writing it down here even though the semester exams are knocking on the door. It’s “my last days of Engineering College”.

The passion that this college aroused in most of us needs to be tapped 😛 because it’s too much for us to go outside when it’s the day to leave. I still remember my first day when I was sincere and all that my parents wanted me to be, but now I feel it’s better not to discuss on this topic anymore. This college has something that drags people to their rooms: exception 8:30 – 10 P.M. walks :P. When I was in 1st semester, I used to go to my uncle’s in Bangalore every Saturday and felt disheartened on Sundays to return back but with passage of time this passion which tickled in dragged me back to college. As far as studies are concerned, (thought least during semesters I need to pay gratitude to them because it was what they were doing had brought me to this place) we have excellent faculty and excellently well poised administration(not). I think we should deal with them slowly, very slowly. First to academics, we have a good set of teachers who know what we want and that’s why they do what they want and help us develop negligence and hard feeling which they knew we will require when we enter corporate. I salute to few of our best teachers whom I still believe need to leave this place as early as possible. One is leaving, and I hope they find better places for themselves.

Our Administration is very co-operative. They are active whole day except when it’s lunch and try to find all possible ways to get the blood out of students and of course hostelers. But for sure they had done what they were asked to do and we all know who asks them to do. But administration comprises of awesome people and though a bit impatient and non-cooperative they show utter efficiency in anything they have to collect from us. Over all though not too much encounter with you all, still I feel this section is worth no traveling.

I had been a member of very special batch for 3 years and I feel first 2 were awesome but the last year was like king of world with a batch having few dedicated members to be tamed ;). In the process of these three years, I entered that door so many times that the fear that shivered during my 1st year interactions were all washed away. I met wonderful people; every other person wonderful in some other way. Few of those people left us previous year and this year I am doing so a bit early.  What to say about our own batch, as said by our senior batch and the administration was the best and I think they know why we were the best. 😉

Coming back from there, I still remember the way labs were conducted and the way we tackled the cases where teacher knew you didn’t do it and it’s from the next desk, you know nothing about what you want to show and still you find ways to pop out of those evaluations and then wait for marks to be uploaded (specially 9 pointers whose 1 mark may bring misery or can overwhelm them to heavens). Those electronic labs were like playing with the board which I used to eat every damn morning at home “THE BREAD BOARD” and yeah for us it was like spreading butter using sharp knife and break it down to pieces. The number of components we destroyed and wires turned in to objects were the best part. I had company of a genius who must have been an electronic repairer in his previous birth and hence I enjoyed staring anxious faces. I remember the time when our college had a bit more open space which I thought was most important for our seniors to train new ones efficiently but later the practice brought us back to rooms. Now as I am leaving, it was relieving to see our OAT is back and ground is growing new grasses in the air (there is nothing below them I saw it being constructed ;)). The bigger building is becoming smaller day by day and I hope that it crosses the mark of 4 floors.

Being a hosteler, my most of the time was spent on my laptop and my gtalk/hangouts green signal used to signify that I am awake. Then came the facebook for me and I got destroyed. During my 2nd year, we had internet connection speed of 5kb/sec on average and 12kb/sec used to be awesome night but I realized that our server room did good job by raising it to 100kb/sec on average (without IDM 😉 ) and 1 MB/sec was Yo day but that didn’t matter because youtube could easily get buffered at 100 kb/sec and those things which required Yo day speed were blocked. But I believe, they did a good job or else the respectable CGPA I hold today would have vanished down to hell.

I came here with a set of expectation well embedded in my mind and I got those things which I never ever dreamt in my freaken mind and I am happy that those embedded thoughts vanished. I made friends whom I would remember my entire life. Those pieces had all different colors and knowing them all cannot be done in a day. I won’t mention any names but I can say that CJ guy is a genius in the area where he is interested ;)). I met really simple guys in here who are still very simple and down to earth. I pray to god to help them in future because they would need it dearly.

I may write it down the whole day and it won’t finish because I had spent 4 years in here..All the best to those who still have to remain here. I would like to end it with a line which I posted few hours back on Twitter. Pretty good likes.

We are anxious to step ahead in life but at the same time afraid to show our back to the past.

Arrivederci

–Shubham

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