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work-lifeIt is a hard balance that many of us need to struggle with. Working in a start-up and having a good family life seem to be poles apart. One of my favorite business school professors, Steve Blank published this piece today on VentureBeat. The permalink seems to be broken so I am repeating some of the key points that Steve mentioned.

This is what he writes –

My wife and I agreed to a few rules upfront and made up the rest as went along. We agreed I was still going to do startups, and probably more than most spouses she knew what that meant.  To her credit she also understood that meant that child raising wasn’t going to be a 50/50 split; I simply wasn’t going to be home at 5 pm every night.

In hindsight this list looks pretty organized but in reality we made it up as we went along, accompanied with all the husband and wife struggles of being married and trying to raise a family in Silicon Valley.  Here are the some of the rules that evolved that seemed to work for our family.

  • We would have a family dinner at home most nights of the week.  Regardless of what I was doing I had to be home by 7pm.  (My kids still remember mom secretly feeding them when they were hungry at 5pm, but eating again with dad at 7pm.)  But we would use dinnertime to talk about what they did at school, have family meetings etc.
  • Put the kids to bed. Since I was already home for dinner it was fun to help give them their baths, read them stories and put them to bed.  I never understood how important the continuity of time between dinner through bedtime was until my kids mentioned it as teenagers.
  • Act and be engaged. My kids and wife had better antenna than I thought.  If I was home but my head was elsewhere and not mentally engaged they would call me on it.  So I figured out how to spit the flow of the day in half.  I would work 10 hours a day in the office, come home and then…
  • Back to work after the kids were in bed. What my kids never saw is that as soon as they were in bed I was back on the computer and back at work for another 4 or 5 hours until the wee hours of the morning.
  • Weekends were with and for my kids. There was always some adventure on the weekends. I think we must have gone to the zoo, beach, museum, picnic, amusement, etc. a 100 times.
  • Half a day work on Saturday.  While weekends were for my kids I did go to work on Saturday morning.  But my kids would come with me.  This had two unexpected consequences; my kids still remember that work was very cool.  They liked going in with me and they said it helped them understand what dad did at “work.”  Second, it set a cultural norm at my startups, first at Supermac as the VP of Marketing, then at Rocket Science as the CEO and at E.piphany as President. (Most Silicon Valley startups have great policies for having your dog at work but not your kids.)
  • Long vacations. We would take at least a 3-week vacation every summer.  Since my wife and I liked to hike we’d explore national parks around the U.S. (Alaska, Wyoming, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Maine.) When the kids got older our adventures took us to Mexico, Ecuador, India, Africa and Europe. The trips gave them a sense that the rest of the country and the world was not Silicon Valley and that their lives were not the norm.
  • Never miss an event. As my kids got older there were class plays, soccer games, piano and dance performances, birthdays, etc.  I never missed one if I was in town, sometimes even if it was in the middle of the day. (And I made sure I was in town for the major events.)
  • Engage your spouse. I asked my wife to read and critique every major presentation and document I wrote. Everything she touched was much better for it.  What my investors never knew is that they were getting two of us for the price of one.  (And one of us actually went to business school.)  It helped her understand what I was working on and what I was trying to accomplish.
  • Have a Date-Night. We tried hard to set aside one evening a week when just the two of us went out to dinner and/or a movie.
  • Get your spouse help. Early on in our marriage we didn’t have much money but we invested in childcare to help my wife.  While it didn’t make up for my absences it offloaded a lot.
  • Traditions matter. Holidays, religious and secular, weekly and yearly, were important to us.  The kids looked forward to them and we made them special.
  • Travel only if it needed me. As an executive it was easy to think I had to get on a plane for every deal. But after I had kids I definitely thought long and hard before I would jump on a plane.  When I ran Rocket Science our corporate partners were in Japan (Sega), Germany (Bertelsmann) and Italy (Mondadori) and some travel was unavoidable.  But I probably traveled 20% of what I did when I was single.
  • Document every step. Like most dads I took thousands of photos.  But I also filmed the girls once a week on the same couch, sitting in the same spot, for a few minutes – for 16 years.  When my oldest graduated high school I gave her a time-lapse movie of her life.

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I wrote this poem in Hindi. A translation for my non-Hindi-speaking friends is coming soon 🙂

जीवन की दुपहरी! – ना  जाने क्या है शिखर के उस पार!

तीसरा और चौथा पहर अभी शेष है
जगमगाती दुपहरी का ये भेष है
सूर्य अपने चरम पर
आशाएं अपने परचम पर
असली जीवन तो अभी बाकी है!

क्या पहुँच पाऊँगा अपने शिखर पर?

सूर्यास्त से भय कैसा
चंद्रमा तो शीतल है
और चौथे पहर के बाद एक सुंदर कल है

यही तो बस एक क्षण है
आज ही का बस जीवन है

दोपहर हो गई गंतव्य का पता नहीं
धूप से उत्साह में कोई कमी नहीं
पहले पहर जब निकले थे
आभास नहीं था कि इतना दूर पहुँच जाएंगे

दूसरे पहर में, कुछ नए मार्ग खुले हैं
कुछ नए साथी मिले हैं
कुछ नए पुष्प खिले हैं

जीवन मार्ग बहुत सुखद है
मिलकर एक बागीचा बनायें
जीवन रस को चहूं और पहुंचाएं

शिखर की अभिलाषा त्याग बस आगे बढ़ते जाएं
ना  जाने क्या है शिखर के उस पार!

Wishing a great new year!

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Buddha

 Here is a simple sketch of Buddha as I “see” it. Just looking at this sketch brings so many different emotions and thoughts. Sketching Buddha was very peaceful.

This is the fourth sketch in my series of simple “starter” sketches. The other three were Baby Hanuman, Flower Vase and A View from Up Here.

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I read Randy Komisar’s “The Monk and the Riddle“. I just could not stop when I started reading it. By the time I finished reading it, the clock struck 4 AM. I think it was a night well spent.

Randy Komisar is a Venture Capitalist with Kleiner Perkins. This book tells Randy’s evolution (thus the word Monkey in this post’s title) and search for his passion. Autobiographies are generally boring but Randy does a great job by weaving his life nuggets with a great story of an entrepreneur, Lenny.

“We will put the Fun back in FUNerals”, says Lenny. He is trying to sell an internet business called funerals.com to Randy. This story is set in year 2000, when the whole world was going online – from pets and groceries to well funerals and caskets. I could relate to this story since a number of my friends were pitching get-rich-quick-internet-business-plans those days (and with Web 2.0 they are doing it all over again).

Lenny is a vulnerable soul like many of us who go through life in two phases. In the first phase we do what we HAVE to do so that in the second phase we can do what we LOVE to do. Randy’s point is to start doing what we LOVE to do NOW. He asks us to not live a life plan which is always deferred till we pay our dues. How practical is it?

Randy does a good job explaining the importance of following our passion, but he lacks concrete steps and examples to find out what that passion is. That search for passion is a very individual matter and requires a lot of personal effort. Bill George’s “True North” does a great job providing a framework to search for that passion. “True North” picks up where “The Monk and the Riddle” ends.

This book is a must read for anybody who thinks business is all about the bottom-line and chasing money. It will convince you to look at business and your professional life through a new lens.

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Gates and Jobs shared a stage and it was quite a show (better than a Bollywood thriller).

One thing that is quickly evident from this – Jobs comes across as a person who still has a lot to prove while Gates looks deeply satisfied like a Sadhu. While Gates looks like entering Sanyas , Jobs is still in the prime of his Grahastha Ashram. Again, there are a number of personal reasons (I won’t go there – Read iCon) that one could highlight why Jobs is still so thirsty. 

Jobs’ thirst is doing a lot of good for customers. Jobs has this beautiful left-brain-right-brain conflict going on that creates these stellar products. Go Jobs Go!

Another thing that came out from this was something that Jobs joked about: both of them being dinosaurs in this new Googly age. These guys will not be extinct anytime soon but their era is not what will define the next 20 years. iPhone is great but is that all? Surface Computing might not be the next killer device. This “Post-PC devices” era might not be dominated by Google either. Where is that next Google, Microsoft and Apple?

I think this picture says it all –

Gates & Jobs

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Here is the third post in my series of sketches. The first one was the view from my patio and the second one was Baby Hanuman. This one is a flower vase that I sketched just before it was broken by accident. It was good that I captured it in some form before we lost it.

I really like this quote about giving – “Smell remains on the hands of someone who gives a rose”. It is in line with what Karma Kitchen is doing in Berkeley. I will write a separate detailed post about Karma Kitchen. I went there with my family last Saturday. It was an amazing experience and a great feast. The check total at the end of a tasty meal was $0.00. Amazing, isn’t it?

Flowers

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Here is the next sketch that I tried. This is the second one in my series of posted sketches – first one was a view from my patio. This one is a Baby Hauman sketch based on Indian animation film Hanuman. Pardon some of the shade which is because of scanner issues. More sketches to follow.

Baby Hanuman Sketch

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I recently started sketching again (after 18 years). It had been a great experience.

Here is one of the first sketches that I came up with. It is a view from the patio of my townhouse in the University Village. I know it is far from perfect. It is a beginning (restart actually). I will post more of these sketches to show my evolution as a sketcher. I will appreciate any feedback from pros on blogosphere.

The View From Up Here

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HAPPINESS – It is the single most important goal of human life. All our actions could be traced to “seeking happiness”. While happiness is so important and sought after, it is not properly understood. There is a huge element of subjectivity involved and that makes it hard to define, measure, monitor and fix.

 Frontal LobeUncertain Future: Our brains have a number of issues that make it hard for us to predict “what would make us happy”. The most significant shortcoming is the lack of details in our imagination. When we think about a future event we tend to just imagine a few important aspects of it. Our brain misses on a number of details.

What differentiates human beings from other animals – our ability to imagine and “plan” for future. This long-term thinking is also responsible for our misery. Our super ancestors’ brains did not have a faculty to “worry” about future. Just like cows, cats and dogs they just had sufficient brain power to handle the immediate future. Our frontal-lobe in the brain is responsible for future long-term thinking and it was developed in the middle of our evolution cycle. This lobe is a part of brain which is non-essential for the basic functions of human body. We would still live if we don’t have this worrisome frontal lobe with our brain.

Unclear Past: Second shortcoming for our brain is related to our past memories. Contrary to common belief our brain is actually not a good storage device. The way it stores past events is by leaving out a lot of details and compressing what it stores. The problem that it manifests itself in is the fact that we are not able to do a good job of “looking back” and deciding what makes us happy. E.g. the only thing our brain might remember about our family reunion is the great panaromic view from the hotel balcony. It does not remember the details of pickerings with our cousins. Because of this we make irrational decision of going to our reunion every year.

What To Do?

Two things one could do to work around these limitations –

  1. Consciously try to “Be Happy NOW”, instead of putting it off for a future event, sale or possession – enjoy the moment.
  2. Talk to somebody who “IS” in that situation before making these decisions. That is the best proxy for finding our future happiness. This way we do not rely completely on our own faulty imagination. E.g. if you are thinking of moving to Raleigh from San Francisco for your next job – talk to somebody who has done it and is currently in North Carolina.

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We make so many decisions everyday, ranging from as simple as which brand of coffee to drink to as significant decisions as whether to use nuclear weapons against Japan.

How do we make these decisions? What is our personal compass that we use to navigate through this web of decisions? And, Is that compass directing us to our best estimate of “happiness” in future?

Harmony

Happiness is so subjective and all of us have so different definitions. This subjectivity and variety in how we interpret our own compass of happiness results in this magnificent variety of life experiences that we go through. It results in so many different life stories.

What is important in all these journeys is the “seeking” part of happiness. We strive to be happy and thus we do all those things that we “think” will make us happy.

Three important decisions that one makes in one’s life are –

  1. Place where we live our lives
  2. People we choose to spend our lives with
  3. Work that we choose to do

In the last couple of decades the possibilities in these choices have exploded exponentially. In this global world the way we decide where and how to live our lives is very different than how it used to be. A number of us end up being nomads or “global citizens” as we call ourselves. The happiness comes from the eclectic experiences that one gets by moving to different locations, meeting different people and doing different things.

The HARMONY that we can build around our three choices is important. The dissonance that arises is responsible for unhappiness.

Just follow the high-level personal compass instead of going into the detailed analysis and planning for future. There are so many variables anyway on your way – focus on the most important ones.

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I met and listened to Vinod Khosla, a renowned Venture Capitalist, at a US-India Venture Capital Association meeting. His speech gave a glimpse inside his mind. It was a very personal speech unlike his previous speeches. Khosla talked about some of the decisions he made in life and why he made those decisions.

Vinod Khosla

Move to India – Remember 1993 – Technology world was eclipsed by Microsoft, the King. There were others like Nortel but mostly big things were happening in Redmond. Khosla lived in Northern California at that time with his family. At that time he observed a lot of action happening in Asia. To go to where the action is – he moved with his family to India.

Disillusionment – When in India he tried to find out about the non-profits that he could help and work with to make a difference. He could not find any good organizations. He was shuttling between India and the US – spending six weeks in India and six weeks in the US, alternatively. He was trying hard to help solve some of India’s biggest problems like poverty and rural development. He gave up – thinking that these are big issues and he is not even able to make a dent in these huge problems.

Khosla Version 2.0 – After spending three years in India he came back to the US again. The current run is his second attempt at solving world’s problems. This time he is more successful.

Positive Future – His prediction for future is that entrepreneurship and innovation will thrive with great opportunities ahead. He also predicts that with the growing complexity of the world, people would move to the more relevant (for happiness) things like relationships, family and enjoyment.

Responsible Capitalism – One of his core beliefs is that capitalist solutions work best for the global problems. According to him a sustainable solution is to have someone make money while solving these problems. Subsidies would take you only so far. His rule of thumb – For a long-lasting solution you need the venture to be in black within five years.

Open Source – He believes in the power of open source. One of his pet projects (where his wife is working full time now) is the open source text-books project. The goal of this project is to make textbooks freely available to all the kids. According to him California alone spends more than half a Billion dollars on text-books every year. That money would be rather well spent on the teacher’s salaries for example. Is open source (and free text-books) not contradictory to the capitalistic principles?

Gut Feeling – He mentioned that we never looks at the extensive spreadsheets and financials calculating ROI and all the good stuff for making investment decisions. He evaluates opportunities solely relying on his gut feeling.

In this meeting I saw in him an ordinary person like you and me who goes through contradicting battles in his own mind. One who is trying his best to make a dent in these massive world problems utilizing all his resources to the best he can. Good luck Mr Khosla in your pursuit of happYness (with a Y instead of i).

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I started my first business at the age of 9 (1984). It was a comic books rental service. I did that during my summer vacations. My first partner was my childhood friend Amit. I got all his comics, combined them with my collection and we had our starting inventory of books. We had books including Chacha Chaudhary, Vetal, Mandrake, Archies, Pinky, Ankur, Chandan, Champak, Lotpot, Motu Patlu, et al. This needed minimal investment and I started being cash flow positive on day one since most of my cost was sunk cost as we already owned all these books.

Chacha

I used the concrete space (front yard) in front of my home to setup my first shop. This whole shop was setup every day in the morning and removed in the evening.

Pricing was not that tough – we just had to be lower than our competitors (professional comic book rentals). It was 25 paisa a book per day. I also relaxed the late fee rules (just like what Blockbuster had to do after Netflix). No-late-fee was a very novel idea those days. This was critical to get our initial customer base.

We created buzz using the current viral marketing techniques. We gave one day one comic book rental free if you refer one friend as our new customer.

Customer Database was a simple notebook with columns capturing information about customers on one page and their rentals on a new page for each customer.

I used to reinvest 50% of my earnings back into the business by buying new comic book sets. One of these nights before sleeping I pledged to myself that I will invest 50% of my earnings always (even when I grow up) on books. I realize now how difficult promise that was. I still try to buy quite a lot of books but certainly not 50% of my earnings. I never understood at that time why these grown-ups always wanted to so many things in life. According to me all that you needed to survive was comics.

As an extension (a big one), I also tried to create my own comic characters. I thought about partnering with my cousin brother Avadhesh (who according to me was the best businessman I knew) for creating a new comic series. It never happened!

As I look back we used all the concepts that I eventually formally studied in my Berkeley MBA program. The basics of business remain same. The most important thing to keep in mind is to do what you are passionate about. My little comics rental business was successful because I was absolutely passionate about it. Follow your heart!

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When we make music we don’t do it in order to reach a certain point, such as the end of the composition. If that were the purpose of music then obviously the fastest players would be the best. Also, when we are dancing we are not aiming to arrive at a particular place on the floor as in a journey. When we dance, the journey itself is the point, as when we play music the playing itself is the point. And exactly the same thing is true in meditation. Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment.

–Alan Watts

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A good question – “Now that we can be in touch with anyone at any time, do we risk being out of touch with ourselves?”

Read Here …

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A man’s silence is wonderful to listen to.

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When we ask this question about “How green is this purchase of mine?” – Remember this –

There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew.

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Some national parks have long waiting lists for camping reservations. When you have to wait a year to sleep next to a tree, something is wrong.

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Popular Belief: Discipline hinders creativity.
Reverse: Discipline fosters creativity.

The most prevalent way to depict creativity is Einstein’s photo with his shabby hairstyle and chaotic looks. Creativity does not always come packaged as this confused picture. The other well-behaved gentleman shown above is C.V. Raman – another physics Nobel Prize winner. It is a different face of creativity than what is popular. Raman was a disciplined scientist who performed ground breaking research while still receiving a gold-medal in college [Einstein got into repeated trouble at school].

Quantity of ideas is very important for creativity. Discipline provides a platform to create an “idea factory”. Discipline helps create a fine-tuned operational process to generate a lot of ideas. A lot of ideas are always better than the few ideas that shabby zealots find themselves boxed in because of their inflexible mindset.

Being chaotic has suddenly become hip. It is the current fad in the enterprise. We have gone too far when it comes to creating an “informal” culture. Being informal does not mean being dirty and messy.

A number of chaotic-creative-people never get to implement their creative ideas because they are not focused. They do not have a goal in mind when they start with their creative process. Disciplined thinking requires you to clearly state your goal in mind before you start any creative endeavor. With structured thinking you start on a stated goal, identify a compelling motive and follow a disciplined approach to finding creatively disciplined ideas.

Another related popular notion is that a shabby work environment is a sign of creativity. A clean environment is much more helpful when it comes to creating good ideas. A dirty environment breeds dirty ideas. A messy environment creates stress and stress in turn kills creative juices. A clean environment on the other hand lets you focus on the creative task at hand.

In conclusion, do not get rid of the basic discipline which is required in the creative process. Do not create unnecessary chaos just hoping that creativity is directly linked to dirty desks and lunatic looks. Discipline is a virtue – embrace it when you embark on your next creative endeavor. And, please get a decent haircut.

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  1. All achievement, all earned riches, have their beginning in an idea.
  2. He had nothing to start with, except the capacity to know what he wanted, and the determination to stand by that desire until he realized it.
  3. Seek expert cousel before giving up. “Three feet from Gold” story.
  4. The greatest success comes just one step beyond the point at which defeat had overtaken. Failure is a trickster with a keen sense of irony and cunning. It takes great delight in tripping one when success is almost within reach.
  5. What of the man who has neither the time, not the inclination to study failure in search of knowledge that may lead to success? Where and how is he to learn the art of converting defeat into stepping stonres to opportunity?
  6. When riches begin to come they come so quickly, in such great abundance, that one wonders where they have been hiding during all those lean years.

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Consider this -You wake up in the morning suffused with an ineffable feeling of joy, a deep sense of well being. You go to work, to a job you love so much that you would pay for the privilege of doing it. You labor intently but are so focused that time flies by unnoticed. At the end of the day you are invigorated, brimming with more energy than when you started. You have a penetrating awareness of the course you are charting, a clear knowledge of your place in the scheme of the universe. Your work feeds this, is congruent with it and brings great contentment and peace.

You face obstacles, big ones and small ones, perhaps more than your fair share of them. You understand very clearly that their purpose is to test your mettle, to bring out the best in you even as the abrasive whetting stone serves to finely hone the knife. So you plow on indomitably, sure of what you want to achieve and yet unconcerned about results. At times it seems as if you are riding on the crest of a powerful tidal wave, as if the universe itself is helping you, working with you and through you. Locked doors open mysteriously. Incredibly fortuitous coincidences occur. You accomplish prodigious feats, feats you would never have imagined yourself capable of. Yet it would have been perfectly okay if you had not accomplished them. You accept accolades gracefully but are not swayed by them because you march to the beat of your own drummer.

Your personal life is intensely fulfilling. You are active in a variety of civic, charitable and political causes and successful in all of them. Your spouse is perfectly compatible with you, a true helpmate in every sense of the word. You beget progeny and your offspring bring great satisfaction. You have a sense of trusteeship towards them and intuit what Gibran articulated:
“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself. They come through you, not from you. And though they are with you, they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but strive not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and he bends you with his might that the arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness; For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so he loves the bow that is stable.

So it goes on year after year, each day more perfect than the one before. Your gratitude is so intense that at times it is like a physical ache. Your heart bursts as you thank the universe. What have you done to deserve such good fortune? And when the time comes for you to depart, you do so joyfully and in peace, achieving identification with the Cosmic Principle, that incredible merging which has been called many things by many peoples but is ultimately indescribable, far beyond the feeble capabilities of language.

Source: Creativity and Personal Mastery (Dr. Srikumar Rao)

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