Lessons From Indian Elections

Before you ask, I do not have any. But, election season is the best time to get a front row seat for the show on human behavior and psychology.

Now that polls are over, it is time for all to draw lessons from the mandate. It is the best time to witness hindsight bias in action. Media will lead the onslaught with a cacophony of op-eds – lessons from the election, advice to Modi, why we got the mood of the nation wrong, what Modi should be doing in the next five years, where Rahul went wrong, etc.

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“Skin in the Game” and “Accountability” are best seen during these times. People who say one thing before the election write diametrically opposite words post-election. Renowned journalists who claimed this to be a waveless election, post-result write wordy articles on why the Modi wave was intense this time. Nevermind the fact that these are the same people who got the 2014 polls wrong too. The best part is, these personalities will soon start advising in television debates on what the government should be doing in the next five years to win over people’s hearts.

The thing I find fascinating is no one holds these individuals accountable to what they wrote before elections; no one questions their credibility and so-called expertise.

I believe it is almost impossible to predict the future, but what we can do is observe the broad trends; the trends should be the guide to the future. Yogi Berra captures it best:

It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.

The idea that the future is unpredictable is undermined every day by the ease with which the past is explained.

The above quote is from Daniel Kahneman; this should be the major takeaway from any massive upheaval.

PS: Contrary to the above, some people believe that the future is predictable; there are projects too on this.

Photo by Edwin Andrade on Unsplash

The Source

I think the minute you have a backup plan, you’ve admitted you’re not going to succeed.

Elon Musk said so. Chew on this for sometime before you read the rest.

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I was not honest with the above. It was not Musk who made the statement but Elizabeth Holmes, at the peak of her popularity. It has been a hard fall for Elizabeth from then to now; she is now accused of fraud.

Did your opinion of the quote change with the source? Did you go from awe to retching?

I believe we give as much importance to the source of a quote as to the quote itself. We should be internalizing quotes and aphorisms by divorcing the source. A quote should be evaluated solely on its content, not who it came from. When we do not do this, the aura of the person shadows the import of the saying, reducing it to personality worship. The significance of the quote tends to get lost.

The act of viewing a quote objectively also acts like a shit umbrella against famous people getting away with baloney like the above from Holmes. If a successful person makes a statement, we take it at face value thinking if she says it, it must be true. We should guard ourselves against this attitude.

Internalizing a quote just on its content is not easy to do as we all love narrative fallacy, but it is worth trying. As with everything, we get better at it with practice.

Image credit: Ilyass SEDDOUG

Déjà Vu

You have been trying to solve a problem for quite some time; the solution appears to be elusive. As you grapple more with the problem, a seed of a solution germinates which sprouts into an answer. In hindsight, the resolution appears obvious. You kick yourself telling why did I not think of this sooner?

How many times has the above happened to you?

I believe almost everyone goes through these in life.

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One simple hack to get better and faster at problem solving is to backtrace through your thinking. Once you successfully arrive at a solution, replay your unsuccessful attempts and figure out what you could have tweaked in your thinking process to arrive at the answer faster.

High performance teams do post-mortem analysis after a critical issue. Members create RCA(root cause analysis) document which contains what went wrong, what could have been done to prevent the untoward incident from occurring and what are the steps to be taken to avoid a relapse. We should be applying the same steps to our thought process when we do not arrive at solutions on time; think of this as an RCA of your thinking process.

This simple trick I believe helps us in getting better and faster at problem-solving.

Image credit: Diego PH

On Writing

I have been writing for quite some time now. I started blogging as soon as I got out of college. I have been writing on and off since then, but in the last one year, I have been successful in maintaining a writing streak. I have always wanted to write regularly; it is only now that I have been successful at it. A significant impetus to the writing streak was the realization that I was becoming a passive consumer and not a producer. I am a voracious reader, and at one point, I realized that I was consuming stuff without putting out anything of my own. Off-late, I have been promoting my posts a bit more aggressively due to which I have received bouquets as well as brickbats. A couple of questions have come my way along the lines of how do you manage to write so regularly, where do you get the ideas from and some trepidations people go through when they want to express their opinion in public.

I write for myself; this might sound like a cliche with a lot of writers claiming so, but you need to start writing to get this. Writing is like having a structured conversation with oneself; it is therapeutic. It helps to bring clarity to a lot of ideas I have. It also helps me to develop a rubric for thinking and decision making which aids me at work as well as in my personal life. Every day I make tons of decisions, creating a framework for this helps me to evaluate the choices objectively and get better at it. Writing helps me to reinforce the process to make these decisions.

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One of the trepidations that most face when it comes to putting out their opinion in public is whether it is good enough, what will others think? Whenever I look at my past writings, I have a terrible feeling in my stomach. I can spot quite a bit of grammatical errors, half-baked ideas, and poorly constructed phrases. I am sure I will feel the same about this post in future. But, you get better by doing, not by not doing, hence, if I write more, I should get progressively better at it, at least, that is the hope. Seeing this from the lens of a journey rather than a destination helps. Ask yourself the question; what is more important to you? Is it your image in other’s eyes or your improvement? What do you prioritize?

What if I write something which I no longer believe to be true? It does not matter. If your views and thoughts are not constantly evolving, there is something wrong. If your beliefs are changing, it means that you are getting exposed to diverse ideas and opinions and you are continually updating your thoughts. A better way to put it is; strong opinions, loosely held. My writings are a reflection of my views at a particular point in time; they may very well change in the future. Wise people understand this.

Another common misconception everyone has is that one has to write something long and unique. Even I held this view earlier, but I have changed. I no longer believe that writings have to span pages to be effective. Shorter essays are equally palatable and powerful. Haikus, proverbs, and parables are some examples of short useful musings. Even if you voice something that someone has written before but color it in your perspective, it adds a lot of value.

How do I write?
I have a rough idea in mind. I draft that. I sleep over it for a couple of days, editing it now and then. I try to shorten it as much as possible nuking unnecessary words and sentences. When I feel I have been moderately successful in communicating the concept effectively, I publish it. After posting, I find numerous ways in which I could have done it better, but I have to draw the line somewhere.

I am writing this in the hope that I can enthuse others to start writing more often.

Blogs Versus Books

Long time back, in one of the social gatherings, someone asked me what do you do in your pastime? I said I read a lot. That person asked – What was the last book you read? I stumbled a bit and took a name. I realized that it had been quite a while since I read a book. Unbeknownst, I had gotten into the habit of reading blogs and articles online with social media and messaging boards acting as the source. There is always more than you can chew with articles touching a wide variety of subjects. Also, it feels a bit like going down a rabbit hole; one blog/tweet leads to another which leads to another and so on until you lose track of time.

I have been a voracious reader of books since my childhood. I got hooked onto online articles and blogs only during the later part of my life; this got me thinking about the difference between reading blogs versus books.

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Even though most books revolve around a core central idea, the author takes the pain to reinforce this with different thoughts and anecdotes. The author builds a structured case around the view and presents a lot of scenarios leading to the core idea. Reading blogs and articles in most cases feels like reading a summary of a concept or just one facet of it.

When you read a book, you are enjoying the journey whereas reading a blog feels more like focussing on the destination. Both have their place, but one should strike a balance between the two.

Pay The Price

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Obstacle racer Amelia Boone says that she is not able to devote enough time to friends and family due to the demands of her tough training regime. That is the price she pays for being on top of her sports.

In the movie HEAT, Robert De Niro says – “Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.” That is the price he pays for being a master thief.

Michael Mauboussin says his quest for knowledge means he misses out on latest series like Game Of Thrones. That is the price he pays for being a crème de la crème investor.

I feel one of the reasons why people give up something too soon or midway is they have not figured out the price they have to pay for doing it.

Everything that one does has a price. Sometimes it is implicit, sometimes not. Better to figure it out beforehand.

Oops, I did it again

It is a packed elevator. Occupants are rubbing shoulders. Stops at a floor. Door opens. A lady wants to get in but there is no room. Annoyance plays on her face. Elevator moves on.

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We all know that worrying over things that we cannot control is a pointless exercise. We are aware of the many cognitive biases that we have, we still fall prey to them. Why does this happen? There is a huge difference between knowing something and internalizing it.

Daniel Kahneman says that in spite of studying biases throughout his life, he is no better at avoiding them compared to others. Dan Ariely believes Kahneman was playing to the audience with that quote and we do get better at recognizing cognitive biases and sidestepping them.

Two simple practices that I find useful in becoming more aware of my emotions and biases:
1. Carrying out a daily audit. Every night, I go over circumstances that day where I believe I could have reacted better. Along with this, I also ruminate situations where my cognitive biases one-upped me.
2. Whenever I know that I am getting into an unpleasant situation, I keenly observe my emotions. This might be something as mundane as getting stuck in a traffic jam to dealing with an unpleasant situation.

I am not sure whether anyone will be able to completely eliminate these but I believe we can get incrementally better at it. Minuscule daily improvements compound to mammoth changes over a long time.