The Method in Madness

This post talks about how I work, what prompts my (business) decisions, what drives me and like the title says, the method behind the madness.

Three things prompted me to write this post. 

a. When I announced Open Office Hours, Sanjay advised me to make a list of all things that I do. And on top of those, make a list of things that I complete. And it wasn't a great feeling to get sucker-punched in the gut. 

Of course, his input was valid. For, I am someone who is good with starting things but I suck at finishing. 

b. I bumped into a very old friend yesterday few days ago. She introduced me to her fiancĂ© and said, Here's Saurabh. He's an amazing guy but he is flaky. A sucker-punch second time around. And a jab. 

Again, very valid. I suck at keeping in touch. I am driven by my comfort and my whims. I often don't honor my commitments (disclaimer - personal commitments. I've met ALL work commitments, baring a handful. Its my reputation that has taken me this far (more about reputation as we go along)).

c. At work, two separate sets of incidents made me aware that I fail to inspire confidence in my people. Sucker-punch, left-jab and upper-cut. One short of KO. 

Really. I mean I could not sleep well the night I realised that people don't have faith in me. I've always thought that I am the kinds that will be in your corner if you are ever in need. No, I don't want to defend. I want to take an objective look at things. 

Lemme give context and talk about one of the incidents. 

I proposed something really radical and that meant people had to take giant leaps of faith to support the plan and the initiative. To me, its as clear as a clear sky that we have to do that. And good part is that my team agrees that we need to do it. But the team is not willing to take the leap. When I wondered why, I was told that such leaps of faith require the team to have faith in the leader. And a leader that the team knows will stick with them. And they said they don't trust me enough (not just my ability but they don't trust even the intent). 

Thing is, while I may say (to myself) that I don't leave anyone in lurch; but if there are different opinions, I need to re-look at my leadership style. I do agree that I get bored easily and I move on fast. Like they fall like sack of potatoes after a KO? And I know that I am like that child in the candy store that wants every damn thing. Of course my attention span is shorter than that of a butterfly or even a goldfish or maybe the hummingbird. I move on faster than Ali could dodge hits. Ok, I am digressing. Point is, I agree that I fail to inspire confidence in my team and that is probably because I cant seem to stick with one thing for long. 

There are more examples. But I guess I've made the point. 

Oh, and if I have to reach the 1 million (and subsequently, the 1 billion goal), I need to be able to get people to buy-in. And to get the buy-in, people I work with need to understand the method in my madness. After all humans are rational creatures and if they know why I do the things I do, they probably will see things from my perspective! 

Also, I love to don multiple hats. I love to juggle lot of things at the same time. And this is reflected in my personal life and in professional. While this is not the best way to go about things and research after research and expert after expert has pointed that you need to have extreme focus if you want success. And I don't disagree. In fact I advise people to remain focused and do one thing at a time. Just that I am made in a way that I cant focus. I tried for a bit to get focused but I realised that my output suffers when I do one thing. And, I do my best work (as rated and evaluated by me and me alone) when I do a million things at the same time! 

So I've accepted that I am going to be a scatterbrain all my life. I will be a fickle mind. I will be a Jack of all trades. And rather than being shy about it, I have accepted the way I am and I now try to maximise my output and thus the potential. 

Thing is, we get one life and I want to live it up and do it all (this probably explains my interest in multiple things). I refuse to be a mere bystander. And I obviously refuse to be a part of the rat race. 


So, in this post (after a mile-long introduction), I wish to talk about how I choose things that I work on. Or like I say, the method in my madness. I write this for my team, my partners, people I want to work with.

Ok. So every project I pick HAS to fall in one of the following buckets.
  • Reputation
  • Growth 
  • Network
  • Money
A good idea is something that falls in any of the above buckets. For example, xtyres would've helped me make money. Or for that matter, my personal blog helps me get better (as a writer at least). 

A great idea is something that is at the intersection of two buckets. Say speakers network. It would've made me money and it would've created a network of connections for me. 

And an awesome idea is that checks more than 3 boxes. For example, Open Office Hours. Apart from making money, it would do everything else. I get access to interesting people, I learn new things and I create a network! 

#note2self: May be work on only those ideas that check 2 3 or more? 

Each idea that I work on (on have tried to work on in the past), you WILL be able to trace back its origins to one of these buckets. 

I know that one big red flag is that there is no one theme or discipline to this (theme as in teaching, AI, tech, fashion, entertainment, marketing etc.). And probably that is where the problem is. More on this in a bit. 

Oh, these buckets are as of today. In the past I had few more buckets. Such as: 
  • Things that I enjoy
  • Things that give me that rush

And these buckets remain in flux. Like they say, change is the only constant. I tweak these buckets often.

For example, once I realised that rather than chasing rush, I ought to look at things from a longterm lens, I dropped the rush piece. So, I refuse to work on a project that could, say, kill me in exchange of that split-second excitement. No more fast cars for me ;P

Second example, I know that once I reach my billion, I will remove the money bucket. Because money will stop being important at that point. I will probably add the Impact bucket because I would have what it takes to create impact.

In fact, I am really tempted to add a Community bucket as the fifth variable. But I am on the fence. May be I will in a few months.

#sideNote. I am reading about OKRs from Doerr's book and I really think its a powerful goal setting and tracking system. I will revisit this post once I've created my OKRs.

There is more. But for the time being, there are these 4 things. Lemme elaborate each.

A. Reputation. 
So reputation is easy to speak about. It's the sum total of beliefs, opinions, understanding, hearsay, reviews, references etc in other people's heads, about you! 

For example, what is the first word that comes to your head when you think of me? 
Flaky, in that friend's case. 
Reliable, for Vanita. 
Contrarian, for Vivek. 
Loser, for sgMS. 
Dreamer, for rr. 
Romantic, for self. 

So my reputation is different for different people. And that to be honest is a challenge.

A great reputation is when what others think of you is largely consistent. Is in the same zone. 

In an ideal scenario, when I walk in a room, the person on the other side of the table must know that I am Saurabh and I am someone that will do what he's promised and will makes things happen. That! That is the reputation that I wish to create for myself. Someone that enables and makes things happen. And enabler of what? Ideas, dreams, things, projects, dreams, lives. Get the drift?

So, if a project nudges my reputation in the direction, I am on board.

Stay with me.

Lemme add one more dimension to reputation.
I think reputation allows you to open doors that are otherwise closed to you. Example? If a big foreign brand wants to come to India, between a Tata and a Dhoot, who would they pick? That!

If you are stuck in a different country and you see a brand from India that you know is reputed, will you consume that? Or will you consume an unknown?

And of course its a double-edged sword. A bad reputation is a larger liability than a good reputation is an asset.

Reputations as they say takes 5 decades to make and 5 seconds to break. Each project I take up, each thing I do, HAS to be a step in the 5-decade long journey. I am no Tata but I need to work hard to be there!

Third dimension to reputation.
It has another general meaning. That of someone who is trustworthy, reliable, honest, authentic, genuine etc. And while I care about these traits in general, I don't give two hoots to these when I create projects.

And why not?

Most of us have this internal bullshit meter that tells us if what we hear is worth our time. Or do we must ignore it. When I meet people, if they think I am full of shit, I will never make any inroads with them. That's the reputation that they have of me. I cant change it. And in the world full of a million opinions and a billion thoughts, why bother? Better invest time in moving on and onward. Unless...

Unless they are the people you work with, want to work with. With those people you ought to work hard, cultivate it and take it from there.

So, it is important to be cognisant of reputation. I've sucked at this but I am improving. The journey of the 5 decades starts today. I will protect my reputation as if its the Princess Peach.

To summarise, if a project moves forward my reputation as a doer and an enabler, I am onboard. 

Oh, and no, do NOT confuse reputation with fame. Fame to me is one of those things that drag you down. Really. More on this someday. 

B. Growth.
I love nothing more than the ability to learn new things and grow. If there is one thing that I can pick up in life, as a common thread that has served me well, I'd pick growth.

In fact most things that I've started are driven by this one tenet. Here is a small list of projects that I am on. 

This blog? Helps me write better. 
Office hours? Makes me aware of interesting things and people.
Podium. Teach me more about events business. 
OnWriting. Make me a better writer. 

I can give more examples. But I guess you get the drift. Learning new things is the secret sauce.

So, what is growth for me?
Growth is when I learn new things, practise a skill, make myself better, pick brains, explore etc. Anything that helps me evolve, that keeps me engaged, that helps me push my limits, my boundaries, my brains. 

Why is this important to me?
Because I am not naturally talented (or as they say, gifted) in anything! I mean I am no singer, dancer, actor, speaker, writer, painter. Neither am I blessed with looks that allows me to get by life easily. And I don't have a rich or famous lineage. And all these factors mean that if I have to have a good life (and give back and make the world a better place and make a dent etc), I need to work hard. And smart. 

Put hard and smart together and you automatically become someone that is like an information (or knowledge, if you will) sponge. You work hard to learn things. You use smartness to figure out the bits to persist with and what bits to let go. And you find your way around life. 

I can give examples. 

a, I am not a naturally gifted writer. But I think with constant practise (been writing this blog for 14 years now), I have been able to reach a point where what I write can open doors.

And I know doors open! I have made umpteen friends thanks to this blog. The book happened because of the blog and the book is like a visiting card for me. 

b, My bills are paid by C4E. And no, I don't have any formal education in the events business. It just that I learnt things while I was at Gravity. I mean when I joined them way back in 2010, I could either choose to remain in the limbo, do my job and get back home. Or I could learn everything about the business. I did the latter and along with a host of other factors, the hunger to learn has helped me create a business that pays my bills! 

Staying with C4E, my biggest challenge is to grow the business. I don't know how to do it. And I will learn what it takes to crack new business. May be in 5 years, I will look back at 2018 and I'd say that because I learnt how to create new business opportunities back in 2018, I could do all I've wanted to! 

Thing is, if I stop learning or stop growing, I'd better die and not waste resources. Life may be meaningless (a friend recently compared life with Sisyphus climb up the hill) but I think the meaning lies in being in the present and helping others.

Bottomline. If a project promises to make me better, I am on board. Tell me of the new things that I will learn. Tell me of the doors that the thing would open! 

PS: You may argue that you learn more and more about one thing only and grow so much in that one discipline that you are THE expert for that (thanks @oddtazz for the idea). Its such a great idea! Just that its not for me. Remember I said that I am the Jack of all trades? I don't want to be the master.

Of course it has served well to others. Prof. Bakshi is an example. He put consistent time and effort on mastering the art of value investing and today, he is a worldwide authority. Something that has allowed him to create immense wealth. And impact. And he continues to inspires others (near and far). That's an amazing life to have. But...

But, its not for me.

Hello, Jack!

To summarise, if by doing a project I get to grow, learn more, #bebetter, I am in! 

C. Network
Network has few definitions.

Network means knowing people well enough that they are willing to back you up, stand by you, become your advocates. This ensures that doors open for you, opportunities present themselves to you, your reputation grows, you make money, you get closer to impact etc.

Example? If Rahul Yadav wants to start a new company, he can find a million investors to back him up. And he can get together a team that he wants!

Network also means reducing the degrees of separation from 6. To, say, 3. Why would you want to do this? So that you can act with speed. After all closer you are to the decision maker, better it is for you! Rather than wasting time on needless formalities and bureaucracy, you focus on getting things done.

Example. If I want to make movies, the ability to find a way to reach an Amitabh Bachchan goes up by a million if I am renowned author. Balki?

Network also means meaningful connections with people that may or may not result in direct business. But something that allows you to grow (see B above). Something that allows you to unwind after a hard day!

Example. If I knew the heads of marketing for large consumer companies, I could pick more insights and ideas and that would allow me to find more revenue streams from C4E.

Network also means the ability to connect dots and make things happen. You have an idea? You need a designer? A marketer? A coder? Lemme put all these together and get things done for you. That. Network. Powerful. Enable. Get things done.

Example. I've been struggling to find an alternate revenue stream for myself. If I could connect with more people and get them to do things for me, I could be faster. And I could actually ship!

Now that the definitions are out of the way, lemme get into the specifics.

So, one of those things that I am sore about in life is my inability to forge deep connections that typically help you get ahead (not just in terms of business but in terms of personal growth). I suck at it so bad that even a banyan tree can beat me in the race. Gary is faster than me! The other day I was lamenting that if I were to die tomorrow, the only two people I would to know about it are my sis and VG.

However, whatever little I have, has came to me because I had people helping me. Without expecting anything in exchange. The standing on shoulders of giants maxim is truer in my case than anyone else's.

Oh and like other things in the Universe, Pareto works here. I can trace back all good things in my life to just about 5 people.

Now imagine that instead of 5 people who care for me, I had about 150 (do read about Dunbar's), my life would probably be infinite times better.

Probably yes! You know? The law of numbers, probability and luck? That!

So, greater, stronger, better the network, better for you!

My favorite example?
One of the clients of one of my previous employers is a family business (worth at least a billion dollars). Their heir is about 19 and lives in London. And goes to school with the Prince of an African Kingdom and an upcoming actor who's already got a few hits under his belt. Imagine the network (and thus influence and reach) in the next 15 years when he's my current age! Add onto the fact that he has a billion-dollar pedestal that he's standing on already!

This also reminds me of one of the projects that I created but couldn't take it to fruition. I called it the Mastermind Group. The idea was to get 10 super smart people in a room and spend time bouncing around ideas. And the 10 people that we choose as part of the group had to have the potential of being one of the most 100 influential people in the world in 20 years! It was a fucking audacious vision. To see it to fruition, we had to be incredibly smart, persistent, lucky and all that.

And you know, I was ok if they threw me out of the group. The intent was to learn as much as I could in whatever time I got to spend with them.

And we failed. In terms of the lifecycle, the project was incomplete. Abandoned. But I did make a few friends and they remain the most trusted advisors till date!

You see an example of how trying to create network allows me to get lucky? Aim for the moon and land in the stars?

Of course I could not choose my parents either (ovarian lottery and all that). And I could not choose my network when I was younger. Heck I did not know that I ought to choose my network! If I knew, I would've done it.

But now, now that I know, I am conscious about what I do. I try and create a network with interesting people. Or with people that I think can be interesting. Bird in hand. And in the bush!

Of course this is constrained by understanding of life and people and all that. You will probably have a different lens and a different method to evaluate things. Point is, there is no denying the importance of the network.

Oh, you know Chris Sacca? He's a product of genius and network. Closer home, I think Zishaan is pure network. You get the drift?

Of course I need to know how to cultivate the network. End of the day everything is a transaction and is selfish (think about it - you help others because you either get something back or it makes you happy or you are merely discharging your duties). So, network is as hard work as anything else is! I suck at it but I am learning. Do share tips and advice :)

Oh, sticking to advice, here's some unsolicited advice. You need to start creating a network. Now. You spent the last 5 minutes reading this. That's 5 minutes where you did not work towards creating your network. It's that important! Why am I writing this? Because I want me team, my partners, my friends, supporters to know what they're getting into when they choose to work with me. And I am writing this for other interesting people that may want to talk to me. And thus, trying to help my network!

So, to summarise, if a project allows me to know more interesting people, I am in. Even if its failed, doomed from the start, I am willing to invest my time, energy and resources to get to know more people. After all, people create magic!

D. Money
Of course.

If I said I am not driven by money, I'd be lying. I know money can't buy happiness but not having money can make you unhappy. Plus money allows you to live in comfort AND work in comfort. And on top of everything, the important bit is that money allows to make bets that can take you closer to your life goals!

And why is money important to me?
In absence of any rational or measurable metric, I believe that the amount of money I make is the direct reflection of the impact I am having with your work.

I mean think of the top 5 people who's made a dent in the world. And then figure out the amount of money they've made. Do you see a relationship? 

Oh, and please don't give me names like Mother Teresa etc. She probably made the ding in her own way but did she did it with just altruism? She needed the money and a lot of people would've supported her. Even the greats like Leonardo and Picasso and all that needed patrons. No?

I don't want to waste more bits and bytes on importance of money. Let's just assume its important.

So, if there are projects where I can make money, I want in. Unlike VCs, I don't look for 10x returns on all my investments. Ideally, some of them have to return 10x, some of course would go bust. But a majority has to just break even. That's it.

#note2self. Is this one of the reasons my projects go bust? Because there is no financial viability to those? Need to think.


So yeah! This is method in madness. Like I said, this is the broad framework and not the specifics. I know that these do not belong to a theme per se. I know that scatterbrains have infinitely tiny odds of success. But this is it!

Hope you understand me a tad better. You may or may not agree with these but these are the heuristics that work for me and unless I see some very compelling evidence, I am not sure I want to change.

Finally, this could be is a selfish way to look at things. But that's ok. I am not taking anything that is not rightfully mine. I am choosing to live my life in a certain way and I am ok if I miss out on a few things. That is what makes life worth living. No? 

In the end,
At the cost of being repetitive, these are the things that drive me and make me want to do things. You may or may not agree with these. But this is the best I can do to explain my thoughts and deeds. If you are in alignment, lets come together and do some crazy shit. There are mountains to climb, money wealth to be made, and people to be inspired and impacted. And time is short. Lets do this!

Why else are we here?

While I wrote what makes me pick things, I want to write about what makes me drop ideas / projects mid way. What makes me "bored" and lose interest.

A long post will happen at some point in time, but right now, here is a bulleted list.
  • I get bored. And when do I get bored? When I start sensing that none of those 4 is happening. Give me constant excitement and I am your slave. 
  • The project reaches a point where I know I've hit the roadblock and unless I get a large external stimulus, it wont move ahead. I know I cant give up like that. I do try to get that shot in the arm. If I need more resources than what I can gather, I leave it to explore new things. I know its unfair (to the idea, more than the people) but such is life. Old has to make way for the new!
  • The project reaches a point where its not a challenge anymore. Like for example, I've always been fascinated by a Rubik's. The day I realised that solving it requires you to merely practise 7 odd movements, I lost interest. And yes, I did learn those 7 steps. 
  • People I work with lose interest. I am the kinds to feed and survive on the energy of others. So the partners that I work with, if they lose interest and are reluctant to play the role that we decided they'd play, I tend to lose it. And since I am too "gentle" and too "human" in how I deal and I avoid "conflict", I let things slack. But lately, I've realized that every time I've been rude, things have moved fast! So I need to think on this. #note2self. 
  • And finally, if during the course of the project, the reasons that I started it for changes, I drop it. For example, the opportunity is no longer around, we are too late to make money or impact etc. etc. 
  • Oh, one more thing. I used to a perfectionist and that made me abandon a lot of things. Now I believe in shipping. Or as MM says, done is better than perfect! So this should get fixed. 

Oh and having said all these things, things that I need to work hard on are
  • People skills 
  • Persistence 
  • Finishing

And finally, here are a few things for you to think on.
  • Whatever you do, does that help you grow as an individual? 
  • What would you epitaph say when you die? 
  • What is the first word that you think people have for you? Is the word consistent? In the same zone?

That's about it. Thank you for the patience. You've just read 4800 words!

If you read this till the end, do let me know what you think and how can I improve. Oh, and the coffee / beer is on me.

PS: Thanks to SG2 for the inputs on this post. She said that maybe this could be positioned as a guideline of the values and systems that defines me and makes me tick. Because if you share values, other things fall in place. So this could be the set of values that I define myself with and if you do too, we can potentially create a long-lasting and effective partnership.


Woodstock11 said...

Honest post. I think it is a great effort at self reflection and accepting who you are. The fact that you have been able to put this out also makes makes me believe your growing acceptance of yourself and confidence in yourself. Careful though, neither are permanent and unless nurtured will melt away with time and tide. The question that remains is so what now. So we know you are a restless instant gratification monkey who has some wonderful friends because he cares too much but what of it?

A goal may require to 'change' yourself, so would you be willing to?

Talent is great and comfort is welcome are you willing to get uncomfortable?

And what exactly are you uncomfortable with?

Onwards and upwards my friend!

Aashna said...

The first bit especially, felt like it was me ranting about how I procrastinate and don't live up to personal commitments. I lack the structure you have though to plan my life out. So it's commendable that you do it with such tedious detail. Food for thought for someone like me who wings her way through life :)

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