July 2005

Mans_search_for_meaningI came across umpteen references to this book from various sources, my friends, my mentors, other popular books. Jim collins mentioned in his book, fast company and business 2 also mention this as a must have on any body’s book shelf, seth godin,avc, also give an abundant praise ..a whole host of people seem to be fascinated by the content of the book.

Last weekend I managed to lay my hands on to this book.I was little skeptical to begin with as any over hyped book always dampens the expectations. However Viktor Frankl book’s exceeded my expectations by all standards.

Its a classic raconteur of the author who spends 3 years at a Auschwitz, a concentration camp during World war II. The central premise of the book is that life has a certain meaning and it is important to understand that life expects something from us rather than the common notion of we expecting something from life. Frankl is fond of quoting Nietzsche

"He who has a WHY to live can bear with almost any HOW"

In the preface , the author advices :

"Don’t aim at success.The more you aim at it and the more you make it a target, the more you are going to miss it.For success, like happiness cannot be pursued.It must ensue, and it must as a side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than one self or the by-product of the surrender to a person other than oneself."

The book is divided in to 2 parts, the first part dealing with the frankl’s experiences in the concentration camp, the other dealing with logo therapy and its philosophical implications.

In the first part, author tries to narrate experiences about three phases of any prisoner’s life. First phase , the period following his admission, Second phase, the period where he is entrenched in to the prison environment and third phase the period when he is liberated. The first phase is characterised by fear , a delusional reprieve symptom where the prisoner somehow thinks he will not go through the gas chambers, that somehow he will escape the punishments, that somehow he will find a way to escape before he is sent to the camp. However this is met with terrible disappointment for people who have these delusions.
The second phase is characterised by a deep sense of apathy where prisoners lose a sense of living and resign to the fate and go through all the horrors of the camp.

The camp life comprised prisoners thinking about food and life all the time, considering the inhuman conditions. Prisoners used Humor to get thr the odd conditions. Some people dwelled on the past to get thr camp life. However the people who survived the camp were people who accepted the camp life and tried capitalizing on the opportunities that camp life could provide them. Which means, there is one thing which man can do under any horrendous conditions – the ability to choose one’s attitude given certain circumstances. There were also people who lived under the naive hope that the war would end on a specific date, by christmas, that they would be out by some date, that there would be some event after which they would be liberated men. When such events did not happen, they broke down and infact the author describes a sudden change in their behavior and they give it up and deliberately move to the gased chambers.

The survivors actually developed a healthy sense of realism and utilized all the opportunities and looked at suffering as a task from which there could be some meaning for every individual.

The third phase of the prisoner’s life is symptomatic with disillusionment, bitterness and moral deformity. Again these traits are evident if the prisoner had not gone through the suffering and tried to make meaning out of it. Those who live day dreaming and come in contact with liberty , cannot face liberty in its totality. They are still plagued with the old problems.

To summarize the first part of the book, the take away is that :

A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears towards human being who affectionately wait for, or to an unfinished task, will never be able to throw away his life. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answers to its problems and fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.

The second part of the book talks about logotherapy , which believes that " to find a meaning in one’s life is the true motivational force in a man". According to Logotherapy,we can discover meaning in one’s life

  • by creating a work or doing a deed
  • by experiencing something or encountering someone
  • by the attitude we take towards unavoidable suffering

There are so many facets to logotherapy that a man can learn and use in his life , that I cant summarize in one post .However an analogy at the end might summarize what logotherapy has got to offer :

"Consider a movie:It consists of thousands upon thousands of individual pictures, and each of them makes sense and carries a meaning, yet the meaning of the entire film cannot be seen until the last scene.However we cannot understand the significance of the last sequence unless we have seen all the components of the movie.

Life is also like this :Life’s final meaning is revealed only at the end at the time of death. However this final meaning too depends on whether or not the potential meaning of each of the single situation has been actualized to the man’s knowledge and belief "

A Great book indeed and I have definitely become richer by reading and pondering over the thoughts suggested by Frankl. If some one asks me , how will I survive the margin pressures from the fellow competitors, how will I survive market fluctuations for my business, I will have one definite answer – "Victor Frankl".

Its_not_about_bikeOne of the finest books I have ever read.This book is an inspiring story of Lance armstrong whose story moves around triumph, tragedy and transformation.
At the age of 24, he becomes a sporting legend and very soon he finds himself affected by testicular cancer. Docs say that his survival rate is 40% . The book’s primary portion covers the way in which he battles the cancer and comes back to participate the Mother of all races. Tour de France and win it in style.
A few days back , the same person had won the event for the 7th time. If one looks back at what he has gone through and what he has achieved after the torturous period, the story will serve as a inspiration for any one who thinks he cant make it in life.

Couple of interesting things from the book, I noticed was the sport of cycling itself. I was always under the impression that it was an individual sport. However the book describes it as a highly team oriented sport where the team as a whole plays it with a particular strategy , employs tactics along the way and plays together as a team to win the grueling 3 week around the France event – Tour De France.

While certainly there was Lance’s determination to succeed that was evident from the book, other noticeable part is the role played by his mother and wife who were through his thick and thin . Sometimes It makes me wonder what is that magic effect that a woman can have on man, that makes the saying – Behind every successful man, there is a woman -an undeniable pattern

The book also talks about a few beliefs of Lance which helped in overcoming the dreadful cancer disease. He become so meticulous in taking drugs, reading everything abt cancer, etc and starts treating cancer as a fellow participant in a bicycle race whom Lance had to win at any cost.

Comparing tour to Life is also a nice way of looking at the event
If you raced fast enough in the tour , you will drop off in two days.It requires a longer view. You have to muster the right resources at the right time , patiently feeding out your strength at the right time, with no wasted energy or motion.
One of the other striking feature of the story is where Lance stresses the importance of focus. Focus can only be achieved by simplifying things and concentrating on few things, besides maintaining a rock solid discipline. In his words, "Discipline brings in a sense of calmness" …The same thought is echoed by Geet sethi in his book – Success Vs Joy

I guess every man should get on to do an activity which he can completely immerse in and derive immense joy. Lance found it in bicycling and I know what I should be doing to get immense joy. I guess its just a matter of time before I get there….

SuccesvsjoyI was to meet my cousin at a hotel when he had come over for a brief visit to Hyderabad. He was in to some VC investing in a life sciences company at Bangalore. I was eager to meet him for I like the way he has gone about achieving a few aspects in his life.

I took an appointment with him 🙂 yeah and was waiting for him at the hotel lobby. Considering my maximizing nature, I went in to a book store which was available near the lobby and picked up a book titled “Success Vs Joy " By Geet Sethi and Sunil Agarwal.

In the hindsight, it was one of the best things that would have happened to me. I had never read a biography of a sports person, so in that sense , this book gave me quite a lot of insight in to what goes in to making of a great sportsperson

This book encapsulates the thinking that went between 2 persons, one geet sethi the World Billiards champion, and the other Sunil Agarwal , an IIT – IIM graduate who in the pursuit of success forgets the joy of the journey

Here are some of the pearls of wisdom from the book

  • It is the act of staying in the moment that gives immense, immeasurable joy
  • To experience joy, you have to be yourself
  • An accomplished player, an accomplished business man in virtually any aspect of sport  will have experienced an addiction of the sweet spot which happens when there is a culmination of perfect alignment, rhythm and timing
  • Don’t let the joy be converted in to numbers
  • Do not fall expectations of the society and give up your journey of looking out for sweet spots in life
  • Joy is internal ; Success is a creation of society
  • In my road toward excellence, I had millions of moments of joy en route , punctuated by just a few milestones of success
  • There’s a difference between knowing the path , and walking the path
  • Demons in the mind
    • These are negative thoughts that keep recurring, disruptive ideas that haunt you. The more you ruminate, chances are that they will overwhelm you and destroy your concentration when you need it the most. It is vital to be able to control the thoughts that race through your mind.
  • Simplify your Life style. A dissipated lifestyle creates the demons
  • Single Minded ness
    • Disciplined and total commitment to a single cause
    • Prakash Padukone , for six years in a row did not watch a single movie while he was undergoing a rigorous training regime. He would wake up at 5:30 , go for a 10 km run, return home for breakfast, exercise, then play two-and-a-half hours of badminton, come back at noon and sleep for two hours. He would then wake up at 2:30 in the afternoon, exercise till 3:00 , play badminton between 4:00 and 7:00 , have his dinner and og to bed by 8:30. He maintained this incredibly disciplined lifestyle for six years with out a break, seven days a week!
    • World sees individuals like Prakash Padukone as one who has made a lot of sacrifices. But, if one asks the atheletes, they would insist that there was no sacrifice, only joy
  • Use Stress to Calm
    • You need to welcome stress, embrace it and practice the art of converting the same to serenity
  • Self Discipline led to calmness which is generally evident in one’s face
    • Discipline means Reigning the mind
    • Discipline : Concentrating one’s efforts in a secluded environment and training yourself to focus on what you are enthused by
    • Discipline strengthens the character and calms down one’s mind
  • Quest for joy becomes the driving force to keep at one’s work, learning and growing
  • Pure action has 3 attributes – Concentration, Consistency, and Humility
  • Concentration : Intellect supervising the mind to remain in the present
    • Mind has frightening power when it stays in the present and almost self-destructing power when it wanders in to the future or past
  • Supervising the Mind
    • If one does not consciously keep supervising the mind to keep stray thoughts from infiltrating, then the thoughts come at random with out purpose or warning.” Power of Now”, author Eckhard Tolle suggests a powerful technique to be calm. He says by observing our ego and its thoughts , by a indifferent attitude towards them, one can quickly learn to be in the present
  • Consistency
    • Ability to stick to what you have to , come what may
    • Fairly simple to understand, but hard to apply becoz of innumerable distractions
    • It is important to regularly convince yourself that the only important thing for the moment is what you wish to do for yourself. Nothing else should matter
  • Humility
    • You are the only one responsible for achievement / Failure of the event
  • Success Follows Joy
    • Success is not linked to Happiness in anyway
    • Seek Joy, Success follows
  • Saying No to Success
    • Joy lies in learning and personal growth
    • Use every cell in your body and brain to hit that personal sweet spot of joy
  • Middle Class Background helps
    • Character is built by going through incessant discipline and perseverance
    • When you come from middle class background, you have less to lose as there is no major social stigma attached to failure
  • With winning comes confidence
  • Success is a social concept
    • Society has its own definitions of success. In that sense, success is a very social concept. The meaning of success , as generally understood by society today, is the accumulation of status, fame , money and power. If there were no society , there would be no yardstick to measure who is successful or not.
    • Success is result. Success is a job well done. Success is not about achieving fame, accumulating money etc. It should be personal and noting to do with what society thinks of you.
    • However whenever we are faced with the question, should you play for yourself or the audience, the former one definitely brings what society calls success at some point of life
  • Life is Unfair
    • Good times and Bad times are a part of life. A little  adversity is better for anyone
    • One has to remain stoic in the face of both good luck and bad luck
    • Accept the philosophy that things are and can often be – very unfair. But in no way should that deter you from your focus
  • Success Corrupts
    • It creates a self delusion
    • Being anonymous , in a sense to experience happiness and joy pursuing an activity
  • Practice to understand
    • Practice means building confidence
    • You need it in pressure situations
    • Practice means understanding the activity, the nuances of doing the activity and more importantly understanding yourself
  • Habits :
    • Do not let the character flaws creep in
  • Learn something new everyday
    • A great player is always constantly learning how the actions of the body coordinate with those in the mind. The results of the game matter far less than the process of learning
    • Learn to love yourself and learn solitude, for in those moments you understand yourself better
    • I am but an instrument of God’s game
  • Coping with the pressure
    • Thoughts of if may cloud your reasoning
    • The best way to relieving the kind of pressure is to tell yourself that at the end of the day you have to justify the actions only to yourself. You have to be honest to yourself, nothing else matters. You cannot fool the man in the mirror
  • The Zone
    • This is the sate of a person when a person is totally in synch with what he is doing. He reaches such an intense level of concentration that playing a game, doing the activity becomes effortless
  • Golden handcuffs
    • Just because one gets educated in the best of institutions and rises in the corporate ladder faster than anybody doesn’t mean that he/she is happy. The dissatisfaction is not caused by the last or the current job. It was programmed decades ago by the society that rewards conformance. We needed to pass school, sit for exams, take up full time jobs, get married, and raise chidren. Somewhere in between we lost touch with that we were really passionate about
  • It’s the spirit that matters
    • Ex of a Venkat Krishnan ( IIT – IIM Alum) who quit his job and started GIVE , an NGO. He is extremely happy doing what he is doing. People like venkat are the ones who are successful. They have done something well and have found their sweet spot in the activity they indulge in. They may not have money, fame or power. …but they don’t care. To them joy is far more valuable
  • How to achieve mastery over temptations ?
    • Answer lies in obsession. One must have a burning desire to pursue the path of truth and not deviate from the chosen path. One must possess a positive attitude that does not dissipate one’s intellectual and spiritual energy.
    • Concentration is built through lifestyle and not through any formula or mantra. A person who leads a simple uncluttered lifestyle and focuses only on the activity of his interest and family will in the long run develop far more concentration than , say , someone who parties every night and who is tempted by food, films, materialism and any other distraction that may catch his fancy
  • Anxiety is good for the system as it subconsciously strengthens the mind to focus on the job at hand. Accept anxiety as just a part of the whole process of doing an activity
  • Mind Body Alignment
    • Alignment means an individual’s mind, body and soul alignment and most importantly, finding the true joy that we all aspire for, the joy that keeps eluding us most of the time
  • Minimize the thoughts in your mind
    • Try not to clutter your brain with too many thoughts, especially the thoughts that are redundant or not useful
    • Dwell on what is important to you and shut the rest out
  • Remove expectations
  • Try always to remove and eliminate expectations. These expectations show up as insecurities
  • Follow your heart
  • People with staying power are the seekers are joy
  • Eliminate IF – “IF” word dissipates your energy
  • Focus on what you relish doing. Indulge in your passion. You cannot be involved in anything got long if you do not love it
  • Real challenge is sometimes figuring out what to learn in situations which are very ordinary
  • Solitude can be sometimes a state of bliss
  • Joy is internal – Success is a creation of Society

This books gives a powerful message , i.e the importance of mind-body-soul synch in a human being so as to give him eternal joy.There are so many takeaways from this book that I cannot possible list them down or try to consciously put it in words. In short – this is one of the those I definitely call as having a significance influence on my life.

I wish I had the email address of Geet sethi so that I could have personally written a mail thanking him for this wonderful book.

Average can be considered as mediocre by a large number of people. However in the areas of decision making, remarkably there have been a large number of instances where collective wisdom of the crowds have helped in churning out a better solution.
The premise of the book is that “ A group with enough diversity, Independence of opinion , Decentralization of the decision making and an aggregation of all the opinions will enable the group to take a much better decision than relying on the so called experts of the field.

Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki dwells on the behavior of crowds and argues about the wisdom and pitfalls of the decision making capabilities. He argues against the common notion held by most of us that valuable information is held in a very few hands. In other words, groups need not be dominated by exceptionally intelligent people in order to be smart.

The premise and the arguments are presented for three type of problems which one comes across in our daily lives.

  • First are the Cognition Problems that have or will have definite solutions. How many copies of the new software will be sold ? What is the probability that a drug will be approved by FDA ? etc
  • Second are Coordination related problems i.e How to coordinate one’s behavior with respect to other, knowing that each person is trying to do the same. Examples include How do buyers and sellers find each other? How can you drive safely in traffic?
  • The third is the Cooperation problem where the challenge is to get self-interested, distrustful people to work together, even when narrow self-interest would dictate that no person should participate. Paying taxes, Dealing with pollution, etc are examples of Cooperation Problems

For any group involving decision making, it appears that diversity, independence and decentralization are the necessary attributes for a wise decision. In cases where any of the four attributes, there are problems that crop up like coordination problems, Aggregation Problems, Polarization, Information Cascade effect, Top – Down approach where the ground realities are never flown to the decision makers.

Diversity :
There are 2 important elements in the success of any economy. To solve the problems, there is a need for generating a lot of alternatives and subsequently winnowing the less optimal ones and pursuing the beneficial ones. The author argues that cognitive diversity of the groups in the decision making process saying that it is better to organize a set of diverse individuals who have varying degrees of knowledge and insight that to organize a few people who are extremely brilliant.
It also means that however an expert’s opinion one comes across, it is better to pool his opinion with others and extract a value from the collective wisdom.


Each person makes a decision based on “Private information” and “Public Information”. If every person takes a decision at a single point of time , based on his private and public information available, like the election polls , then a need of independence among voters , devoid of any coercing act from others would bring about a wise decision. In circumstances when the decision making of people are lagged, which happens to be most of the times, one pattern which is evident in these cases is the Information Cascade where the decision taken by the first few to a large extent has a considerable influence on the people who follow subsequently. Two examples mentioned by the author are Plank Road wave which hit the US in 1820 – 1840 and the standardization of screw across industries. Both are examples are information cascade, one resulting in a slate of bankrupt companies and other resulting in a beneficial effect to a lot of industries.

So,the pivotal question, is the information cascade good or bad? It is hard to come at one answer as the history is strewn with cases which have been good and bad. However, all said and done imitation of other’s decisions will happen and unless the group looks at the imitation and  tries to take it with a pinch of salt, in all probability the true information cascades will be beneficial

Linux is a terrific example of a system where decisions are taken by independent hackers sitting miles away and yet bringing out one of the finest operating systems in the world. For any group to be effective in decision making, the tenet of decentralization needs to be present. However without a proper system of aggregating the results of the decentralized opinions , it would be not work in a practical way. In the case of Linux, it was Linus torvalds himself. In other cases, there needs to be an effective system of aggregating opinions of all the people at one place. eBay is a classic example of one such system where the decisions of zillions of buyers and sellers are captured in a simple seller rating

Examples where the wisdom of crowds was demonstrated:

  1. Who wants to become a Millionaire – Audience always outperformed so called expert
  2. US Submarine Scorpion which was submerged in some anonymous place in the ocean was traced by a group which involved diverse set of people, asked to come up with independent decisions
  3. Challenger Disaster : Identifying one of the companies which was responsible for the failure , the manifestation of which can be seen in the severe stock beating
  4. Google : For every query , it is asking a crowd of pages on the net to estimate the importance of the pages on the net to display the results to the user
  5. Francis Galton witnessing weight – judging competition
  6. Hollywood Stock exchange which allows people to wager on the box-office returns, opening weekend performances, and Oscars.
  7. Iowa Electronics markets predicting the outcome of presidential elections

Some of the examples where there has been an absence / presence of wisdom of crowds attributes

  • Road traffic in USA : Failure to have a coordinated system for traffic movement
  • Academic research : Diversity combined with coordination is the only way for the community to come up with new discoveries and inventions
  • Working of Stock Markets
  • Working of Democracy

At the end of the book , the biggest take away for me was to look at problems from the perspective of cognition, coordination and cooperation present in a decision making problem