5 Fictional Heroes Who Influenced Me

What kind of heroes are you attracted towards? The action-type? The cool type? Or the angry type?

All of us have preferences when it comes to the kind of people we like and have an affinity towards. This extends even to fiction. Some fictional characters have such great impact that they push us to develop certain traits and characters which become part of our identity!

In my case, I have a weakness for calm, cool and collected characters. Characters with nerves of steel. I would prefer  having a calm guy/gal by my side who can out-think and outmaneuver the opposition through sheer brain power, than a wham-bamming brute force monkey!

Being a voracious reader, I have consumed loads of fictional novels since I was 12. Here are some characters who have stayed with me through the years and continue to inspire me with their coolness, wit and courage.

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes

The epitome of coolness. This consulting detective was my first hero whom I tried to ape in every way possible when I was growing up. Sherlock’s supreme confidence in situations old and new, his ability to see beyond the obvious and his calm, unruffled composure inspired me whenever I felt fear and doubt in my own abilities.

Thanks to my obsession to be like him, I ended up studying about topics which made me something of a wonder-boy during my school days. I took to reading Physics, Toxicology and Philosophy with a relish and even went to the extent of collecting crime news clippings from dailies in order to hone my skills as a future detective!

These things seem silly when I look back now, but some of the qualities which I developed back then still help me out. Sherlock taught me to be fearless, driven and logical. He taught me to have the curiosity and the courage to learn about things which fascinate me. Given his ability to still inspire millions, it’s quite elementary he’s my favorite character isn’t it?

(Thank you Arthur Conan Doyle for creating this masterpiece!)

Dr. Ian Malcolm

Ian Malcolm

My first encounter with Ian Malcolm was when I picked up the books Jurassic Park and The Lost World by Michael Crichton. Ian is a rebel mathematician and a chaos theorist who acts as a detached protagonist in the novels.

What struck me about Ian Malcolm was his ability to be the voice of reason (though an ironic one) when everyone around was excited and emotionally blinded. His accurate warnings about the downside of trying to control nature and attempting to bring back dinosaurs made him something of a genius to me.

His dry humor and his intellectual breadth appealed to the nerd in me and gave me the hunger to digest complex concepts which I would have otherwise never excelled at. Even now, when I am forced to learn stuff which I find hard to comprehend, I make myself step into the cool, rational mind of Ian Malcolm. This helps me power up my focus and learn them with ease.

 

John Galt / Howard Roark

Ayn Rand Atlas Shrugged

Some young adults (referring to nut-cases such as me) between the ages of 20-23 have a tendency to turn into part-time philosophers. They are besotted by the quest of finding about the purpose of life and our place is in the grand scheme of things.

Enter Ayn Rand’s legendary books Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. The sheer number of thinkers who have been influenced by these books is phenomenal. I am no exception. (I recommend them to anybody who has a love of reading)

Howard Roark and John Galt, to me represent the pinnacle of radical doer-thinkers. Self-made men in every aspect, they move through life with the fluidity, grace and assurance of divine beings. Armed with an objective mind, fearless disposition and a joy for living, these two heroes carved out a distinct path for themselves. Their philosophy of objectivism gave a fresh direction to my thoughts.

They taught me to develop the ability to withstand life’s tribulations with fortitude, through a firm faith in one’s own abilities, no matter how bad the situations around me.

Dirk Struan

Tai Pan

Dirk Struan is the main character of the epic novel Tai-Pan written by British author James Clavell in 1966. He is the Tai Pan (Chinese for ‘Supreme leader’) who commands the respect and envy of everyone  and trades through his trading company called the Noble House.

Dirk Struan is my favourite anti-hero who is a resourceful, tough and a cunning bastard. He is a self-made millionaire who loves the seas and is a fearless merchant. The novel is about his love for China, his challenges, adversities  and how he comes out of them a sheer winner!

The Tai-Pan taught me the need to embrace change and adapt to dynamic situations. His ability to network with a wide variety of people and lead them in times of intense pressure make him an endearing character of mine.

Michael Corleone

The Godfather

No list of my favorite characters would be complete without The Godfather’s prodigal son. A complex character who is forced to take up the family mantle and deal with the ever-increasing violence of his enemies. A man who ruthlessly consolidates power so that he can escape it all. Only to be pulled back again.

Michael taught me never to be intimidated by anything. Whether it be power, stature or size. He also taught me the value of diplomacy over brute force. The need for level-headed thinking instead of impulsive decision making. His words of wisdom have helped me make many good decisions in my life.

What such characters show is the need to live life on your own terms. To be one of a kind. To be driven by a purpose and to excel in whatever you do. To walk the talk and leave a legacy behind which can inspire others to lead better lives

So who are the fictional characters responsible for molding you? Share them with me and the rest of the world…

Cheers!

Seth Godin and Productivity: Shut It. Ship It. Build It.

So how much work do you still have pending today? Emails still piling up? Assignments left untouched?

Tell you what. Relax, take a deep breath and listen up. Reading this will take just ten minutes of your time. If you can extract value from this post, you might just increase your productivity for a lifetime.

Ladies and Gentlemen, introducing Seth Godin. Author, Entrepreneur, Legendary Marketer and Speaker.  Seth has a brilliant mind which allows him to tap into ideas hitherto unexplored by anyone.

His blog, which looks like the private diary of a marketer, contains less than 100 words per post but still commands rapt attention from millions of people around the world.

Seth Godin
Photo by Joi Ito via Flickr CC

In short, he is a guy who gets a lot done in little time. He has been doing exceedingly well in all of his projects. I felt that there is a reason for it. When examined closely, there are some patterns of behaviour which have helped him to be highly productive and consistent over the years.

Shut It

Seth Godin, though being a successful Blogger doesn’t believe in Twitter or letting people comment on his blog posts. Why? Because blogging for him is the crux of his activity.

He doesn’t bother trying to convert people into liking him. He says either they get what he says or they don’t. And endlessly haggling with people who may have a thousand opinions of their own doesn’t help him in any way. Not when he already has a powerful network of his own.

Seth Godin Productivity
Photo by Evan

Oh by the way, he doesn’t believe in watching TV either.

The obvious thing to learn from Seth is get rid of things which are non-value adding to your life and take you away from your primary focus.

Admit it. How many times have you clicked on a link or a photo and wandered off into the woods of the enchanting cyberspace? Only to return after an hour wondering where all the time went and waking up to all the work lying around you.

Your multiple to-do lists can wait. The power of Focus can only be harnessed when you can eliminate activities which take away your mindshare. Make a list of five things which are stealing away precious minutes from your life and distracting you from your purpose.

Shut them off and watch your productivity improve immediately.

Ship It

Seth is a strong believer in the power of shipping. Every professional is respected and trusted due to his ability to deliver the goods on time, everytime.

Seth Godin Productivity
Photo by Kamyar Adl (Flickr CC)

Whether it be a Manager, Blogger or a Techie, one mistake which we do when executing our task is over-thinking it. We often have fears whether the work we submit is good enough to be accepted, whether it’ll be praised or trashed away or even the illusion that the fate of humanity depends on it!

The problem of living with this mindset is that you end up refining and reviewing each work hundreds of times! And everytime you do this, you’ll spot one or the other thing which needs changing, tweaking or re-wording. Imagine the amount of time wasted in this activity!

A better option would be to review your work once and ship it off to the concerned person. Remember, unless you are selling a final finished product which cannot be recalled, you almost always have the option of tweaking or changing what you do in the first attempt.  If they don’t like it, you’ll get feedback soon enough on what needs to be improved (Probably saving you hours if not days!). If they do, they’ll like you for being on time and may even appreciate you for your speed of execution.

This style of working also ensures you have a clear picture of what works and what doesn’t. It helps you adapt and improvise much quicker by getting faster responses from your stakeholders.

Build It.

All the focus and quick shipping won’t be of any use until you can pick up what works and rapidly scale it up. Successful people and organizations who have followed this and reaped astounding results. Think Amazon, Alibaba and Flipkart.

Seth Godin Productivity
Photo by The Magic Tuba Pixie (Flickr CC)

Once you find that a particular flavor of working generates results, start to build on it. Whether it’s your style of working, type of blogging or even your way of presentation, start noticing what clicks. Once you find these things, work on building this as your strength and refine it to make it your capability.

With these set of capabilities within you, you can make yourself an asset no matter where you are. They will help you remain super productive and at the top of your game.

Seth Godin TED Talk
Photo by Steve Jurvetson

Seth also talks about the emergence of Tribes and want of leaders to guide these tribes to meaningful action. He says the ability to connect disconnected and yearning individuals is what will create the next big ideas and revolutions.

And it takes highly productive individuals, capable of guiding both themselves and others towards transformative action to lead this kind of change.

So what are you waiting for? Start shipping now and let me know how it turns out for you!

Cheers!

Inspired Living – Wisdom Through the Ages

Great people have always inspired us through their actions. Their deeds of founding new principles, leading great revolutions and building legendary institutions make them immortal in our annals of time.

‘Success leaves clues’ they say. These clues can be found in the word of such great people who shook the world with their thoughts, leadership and vision.

Inspired Living – I have gathered quotes from the best philosophers, leaders and entrepreneurs of our time and created an infographic which is bound to get you inspired on your Way to Greatness!

Cheers!

iliving

Confessions of a Restless Soul: How I Became Good at Writing (And Eventually began Blogging)

Writing

I have a confession to make.

Contrary to what many may think, I wasn’t good at writing! In fact, as a kid, I usually got scolded for scribbling illegibly in my answer booklets at school. I was a lazy, arrogant and ignorant boy who usually lived in his head most of the time.

I am sure many of you remember the TV series House M.D. I remember watching an episode where one dialogue left an incredible impact on me.

House: “Are you going to base your life on who you got stuck in a room with?

Eve: “I’m going to base this moment on whom I’m stuck in a room with. That’s what life is. It’s a series of rooms, and who we get stuck in those rooms with adds up to what our lives are.” (emphasis is mine)

It made me think of all the people I got stuck with in various rooms. The diverse circumstances and places where I met them. How every interaction played a role in shaping my life. Today, I remembered the dialogue again.

A series of rooms are also the reason why I became a Blogger. And how I started my writing journey. I felt I had to share it with you. This is the story of how a 12 year-old fool fell in love with writing and eventually started using it to take him places.

It was the year 2000. While the whole world was talking about the dot-com bubble, I was grumbling about having to go to piano classes. Those were the days when almost every middle-class Indian parent made sure their kids attended camps, sports coaching or music classes of one form or another during the summer break.

 My dad was no exception. He had grown tired of me blowing his hard-earned money by spending time online (Remember the crazily expensive VSNL dial-up connections?). His company had an Officer’s Club where they had a summer camp arranged. Just to use up the remaining funds, they had called some dude to teach piano to all the employees’ kids.

 Dad asked me to make a decision. Either I attend the summer camp and weekend piano sessions. Or become a watchman guarding the apartments we lived in. So off I went to become the next Mozart!

The classes were held twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It was obvious to any ant, mosquito and human sitting in those piano classes that I had no talent for the instrument.  I usually ended up talking to the other sods and distracted them by telling them made-up stories about ghosts and scary places near their homes.  The piano teacher decided that I wasn’t worth his time, given the money he was being paid. So he decided to get rid of me and asked me to come that Saturday for some extra lessons. He told me I could leave home early if I wanted to.

I didn’t waste a second and ran home thinking I would bunk the weekend class and cover it up with a lie later. And just like a bad horror movie, my dad had arrived earlier than his usual time and was happily drinking tea. You can guess what happened later. I blurted out that we had all been left early and had an extra class on the weekend. He was obviously delighted at not having to deal with me on the weekend and made sure that I woke up on time that Saturday.

As I made my way to the Club, I noticed that there was a festive air. There were kids whom I’d never seen before, playing and jumping and falling like stupid kids usually do. The club was wrapped in cheap craft paper of various colors and there were parents anxiously guiding their little ones into different rooms.

“Bastard!” , I muttered to myself. The piano teacher had lied to me. He knew I stayed far from the club and had to walk 30 minutes to reach it. This was his cheap revenge. I was fuming. I said a mental goodbye to the club and started walking back.

“Oye, you’re Apasangi’s son right? Where are you going?”

I turned to see a friend of my dad standing there smiling at me. This day was going from bad to worse.

“Yes Uncle” I innocently replied, smiled and explained how I had arrived thinking there was some class and was heading back

“No problem, no problem!! Good you are here! We have special competitions arranged for all kids. I am sure there are some for your age group too. You will participate, no?”

This was the definition of a rhetorical question. If I had not said a Yes, then I would have to listen to my dad’s sermon later as to why I wasn’t going to be of any use to this planet or it’s citizens. So I resigned to my fate and went along with him as he made me sit next to an older girl who was busy writing something on a sheet of paper.

Great! I’m stuck in a room full of boring people’, I thought to myself.

“You ready for the essay competition? You must be in the 10-14 category right?” she asked.

I just stared. She was kind of good looking. I decided to say something awesomely intelligent

“Humm I grunted. I don’t know how that sound came out. I was pretty sure I had atleast 3 sentences planned as a reply.

 “Why don’t you give it a shot? For the 10-14 age group they have an essay writing topic too. Topics are put up outside. The winner gets a special prize! Go!” she smiled sweetly and went back to her writing.

I quietly went and saw a bunch of kids jostling each other to note down some topics. Since I was twice their height (only thing I was born with), I could see them easily.

The Board read:

Essay

A Bearded guy announced “Please go and be seated in Room B. The competition will start in 5 minutes!”

The entire crowd started moving towards a Room located in the interior part. I followed them to see what would happen. We were all asked to sit on the floor. I was given two blank sheets and a writing pad.

“Please write legibly. Extra points for using relevant examples” the bearded guy said. He looked at his watch.

“OK, it is 10:57 now. You have 3 minutes more before starting!” he shouted.

It was then I realized that most of the others in the room had prepared for this. Their eyes were half closed as if in a trance. They were bloody memorizing what to write. They had mugged up their essays and come to vomit it out. It was a no-brainer that most of them had been told beforehand what the topics were.

I suddenly became very angry. I don’t remember what triggered this anger. Was it the unfair competition? The piano master? Or the bearded guy’s face? I honestly can’t recollect. The only thing I remember now is being stuck in a room full of people I didn’t want to and a competition I hardly knew existed.

“Begin!”  the bearded man said and clapped.

I looked around as people around me were dumping text from their head to the paper in furious speeds. One girl was sweating and trying to wipe it off her nose with her hanky while writing non-stop.

All that anger made me focus. I thought about what I could write. The obvious choice was Pollution. It was easy, predictable and I had to only look around to find a relevant example as there was a lot of trash lying in the room. Also, I had written essays on pollution for the last three years.  (I don’t know how many of you know this. But Indian kids are made to write essays on Pollution from the age of 9 to 14. The other common thing being the life of B.R. Ambedkar :D)

But most people around me seemed to be writing about this. The guy sitting next to me had written half a page and was drawing some clouds. Guess he didn’t know what ‘essay’ meant. The next best option was writing about my career. At that time, I always imagined I would become a Private Detective. It felt stupid trying to convince a few grown-ups how I would do this. Especially when I had no clue myself. (Detective, Clue – Get it? He he….  Not funny? :( Anyways)

10 minutes remaining!” the beardy bellowed. He seemed to be enjoying this.

My sheet was still blank. So I started. Wrote the topic title ‘My Role Model’.

 And then it happened.

With hardly any pause, my mind started to produce words faster than I could write. I realized I’d started writing about Mahatma Gandhi and three important events which made him transform into the messenger of peace and non-violence. I wrote how his thoughts and actions inspired the country to achieve freedom. How his life made me decide to devote myself in whatever way possible to the service of others. And how this attitude would help bring peace to the world.

“Last One Minute!” the final warning was announced.

There was some space left under the Topic Title. I filled in “An Eye for an Eye makes the whole World Blind – M.K. Gandhi”

I swear to God. All I remember after that was handing the sheet over, eating some lunch and heading home as if in a daze. There was a wonderful sense of fulfillment and happiness I had never felt before in my life.

It never occurred to me to ask about the essay competition later. Writing itself seemed to be so wonderful that nothing else was needed as a reward for doing it. So a couple of weeks rolled on and I went back to being the random inhabitant of earth. It was a Thursday evening as Dad came home from his work with a huge smile on his face.

“Do you know what your son has done?” he asked Mom.

Mom gave me an ugly look and asked “What did he do now?”

“He has got the first place in Essay Competition. One of the judges works in my department and she was praising your son’s writing skills!”

He was damn happy. He came, thumped my back and said “Good! Keep it up!” and went to tell the news to my Grandmother and my baby sister. They were all ecstatic. It was an awesome day indeed.

And that’s how my writing journey began.

As I grew up, I started writing in every essay and literary competitions possible. I became part of College editorial boards, literary committees and debate clubs. I spent time in rooms and rooms of like-minded souls who loved writing and talking about Books, reading and writing. Before I knew it, I was getting by in my Management course just because of my ability to confuse the Profs with my mastery of the language.

My brush with Blogging began while I was pursuing Engineering. I did it occasionally (nikshepd.blogspot.in) and stopped after I got my first job. But as they say, your true passion calls out to you from even the netherworld at times. And I have realized writing through the medium of a Blog is what keeps me going.

So here I am. Writing this post and talking to you through it. This is what gives me peace of mind and true fulfilment. And I assure you it will only get better with time. I’ll try my best to add value to your lives but I hope you’ll forgive me if at times, my writing falls short of the ideal.

Be aware of the fact that the people you end up getting stuck with in rooms matter. Next time it happens, make sure you keep your eyes and ears open. For you never know when life will make you stumble upon your true purpose in life!

I hope your calling finds you soon. Keep Looking.

Cheers!

Warren Buffett Unplugged: What I learnt from the Sage of Omaha

 

“Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.”

-Warren Buffet

Warren Buffett Secrets

The advent of the 21st century has brought in a mad frenzy to make huge sums of money and this has increasingly led to the disparity between the rich and the poor. In fact, many people are questioning whether the concept of healthy capitalism exists anymore at all. However despite all its critics, capitalism has a strange champion. One, who through his strict adherence to his values and simple yet, powerful thinking has managed to remain one of the most wealthy and successful men on earth : Warren Buffet.

Warren Buffet stands out from all the other Gods of the business world due to his approach to life and his insistence on what he calls ‘Creating Value’. Buffet advises that any person is sure to achieve success in fields where his natural strengths are used. Buffet calls this using the ‘Circle of Competence’  rather than frittering one’s energies trying to follow the latest trends.

Listed here are  some insights and principles which have helped me over the years:

Personal Philosophy  – The Inner Scorecard Principle

The Inner Scorecard principle stresses the importance of being the best at what you do even if no one around you appreciates you immediately for it. It says consistency of quality and excellence in actions are bound to bring superior and sustainable results in the future. The challenge is to continue doing what you do even if it appears to not produce any results.

Rodin Thinking Man

Buffet asks “Would you rather be the world’s greatest lover, but have everyone think you are the world’s worst lover? Or would you rather be the world’s worst lover but have everyone think you’re the world’s greatest lover?”

My approach to my career and business life derives heavily from this personal philosophy of Buffet. In fact, my decision to join a B-School did not come till I had discovered my strengths as a communicator.  My past decision to quit a lucrative software job to pursue a career in Training which offered a relatively low salary was largely driven by Buffet’s Inner Scorecard principle. And I am confident, as I see my life moving in the direction I always wanted, that it was the right decision to make.

Wealth Decisions -Value Investing

Wealth

Another principle of Buffet which I love is the concept of ‘Value Investing’. Buffet learnt it from his mentor Benjamin Graham and he claims this is what helped him get to where he is now. Value Investing is a concept where one identifies a firm’s intrinsic value before investing in it. This often involves buying stocks which might not be the best performers according to the so-called experts.

This concept can be extended to our decision making as most often, we take them without estimating their true value. It has helped me realize that focusing on short term gains might cause more harm than good.

Brand Building: Patience and Integrity

Brand Building

Warren Buffet feels that the most valuable quality in an investor is Patience. He says, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” There have been numerous instances when impatience has hampered my chances at success and I have found that most of the times, patience combined with perseverance carries a person through both business and life.

Another quality which stands out in Buffet is his integrity. He once famously said,” If you have the highest intelligence and ambition but no integrity, I would not even consider you as a candidate for my firm”.

My way of adopting this into my life is to be as honest and transparent as possible in all the things that I do. His message has also inspired me to share my learnings and insights with others. Even if it helps one person in his lifetime, I would consider my life well-lived. And I am confident that if I adhere to Buffet’s principles, I do not have to worry about being caught wrong-footed.

Career – Seek The People/Companies You Admire

I intend to follow through with Warren’s advice on career. He says “People ask me where they should go to work, and I say work for whom you admire the most. Do what you love, and work for whom you admire the most and you’ve given yourself the best chance in life you can”.

Career Goals

After B-School when most people would choose to seek the highest paying companies, this helped me stay grounded. I had made up my mind to work for firms which are known for its integrity and loyalty to its shareholders. This helped me stay away from the greed for joining firms which offered huge starting packages but were not great on fairness and ethics.

Well-Being – Give Back what You Receive

Warren Buffet’s philosophy of restoring the balance in the universe by giving wealth to charitable causes really strikes a chord with me. And he is the only multi billionaire who has pledged to give 90% of his wealth in charity. He says that unless people learn to give back what they have in abundance, they will never evolve as human beings.  It is this combination of down-to-earth thinking and profound wisdom which makes him a role model for millions of people.

All in all, Warren Buffet has emerged as the world’s greatest investor and to me one of the best human beings because of his approach to life. His quote sums up his conservative, yet sound thinking which embodies his typical wit and attitude to life:

Warren Buffett Press

“If a genie appeared and gave you the car of choice (and you love cars), but there is a catch, it is the last car you get in your life. What will you do with it? You’ll read the manual five times, keep it in the garage, fix the least little dent etc… ” this is exactly the position you are when it concerns your mind and body. You only get one mind and one body, and it’s got to last a life time… it’s what you do right now that determines how your mind and body will operate ten, twenty, thirty years from now” 

The importance of being healthy is much more applicable to our generation than it was before. With all the stress and strain of our daily routine, few of us dedicate time to replenish our mind and pay attention to our bodies. All the running around will do you no good if you are unable to enjoy the fruits of your labour after 20 years.

I hope these principles help you too and make you healthy, wealthy and wise!

Cheers!