Mr. Boland Roberts, Bishop’s School Pune

Mr. Boland Roberts was former principal of The Bishop’s School Camp from January 1973 to June 1999. Mr. Roberts as he was fondly known as passed away on the 12th of April 2018.

He was my principal for 11 years. I thought a note of how I remembered him would be my contribution in celebrating a truly incredible person’s journey.

The most amazing thing about Mr. Roberts was his beaming smile. It makes it hard to imagine the person who owned that smile was also a disciplinarian. If you knew the gentleness of his smile you’d have trouble reconciling those ideas too. When I remember him, he’s leaning over me as a much smaller boy, smiling down and asking me a tough, direct question to engage me. He often moved around the school grounds after morning assembly in his black cape, occasionally speaking to boys he ran into.

Other old boys will recall he personally handed out certificates before school gatherings, providing a firm handshake and verbal encouragement to every boy for every reward. I remember receiving a book at his hands in class VI and every time I went up there to meet him, it was special. He did his best to make it so.

Class X of ’93 had a serious run in with him. They were caught by him in the St. Mary’s annual fair despite having clear instructions that they were not to attend. This was a classic moment of rebellion and they were pulled up by Sir himself. Schools can go much easier now, but back then I believe Mr. Roberts genuinely wanted the boys of Bishop’s to be gentlemen ambassadors of the school.

He was my principal in class X of ’94 and continued to lead the school up to his retirement in 1999. He ran the school with vigor and I’m sure he enjoyed every day of it. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and I believe his immense contribution in making Bishop’s an institution will be remembered.

Summer Cold and Arduino

I have a cold and it’s a miserable feeling to have one in the Summer. I tried to be careful when spending time with my Son this Sunday morning. The Arduino kit we were working on required us to work together in close contact.

We ran into a tiny issue that needed debugging. The Arduino IDE picks the default board and we changed it to the right one to get it working. He had a real blast changing the LED delay times and uploading the code to the board. I’m looking forward to the different experiments we’ll try together. I wonder if he’ll be able to read and change the code too?

Persistence is its own Reward

Are startups owed an exit? It sure felt that way when I wrote this piece. Somewhere down the line, my thinking changed.

All founders are desirous of the big exit. Be it a venture investment, IPO or maybe even being acquired. An investor and startup come together when it’s a win-win, right? The investor believes that the startup is a compelling story, that they would miss out if they didn’t invest. The startup believes taking the investors money and involvement has greater rewards than the trouble.

Then there are dire situations where founders are struggling and they believe they need a cash infusion to stay afloat. I know of many such journies. I too was at that point once. It felt then that an exit was owed. I denied myself the reward of persisting. A lesson learned.

You deserve an exit when a competitor believes they have to buy you out, an investor believes that you’re a must-have investment, a strategic investor thinks you’re going to deliver on a key priority, or it’s just simply too hard for you to go on. I imagine I might have missed some other rational or irrational scenario, but otherwise, there’s no exit.

Then there is future. There is always future. When we’re looking into the future, the exit goal clouds the constructive, path-finding attitude. So set it aside. You can build a future if you believe you have one. Surprise your self and those around you every day. Look to inspire and get that next customer, that next user, the next investor, the market and so on towards the larger more complex ideas. Trust me, as the future unfolds – you’ll see there are limitless possibilities to surprise you. I don’t say this trivially, I did find a future myself and I’m sure you’ll find yours.

Forty

I’ve turned forty! I really hope I’m getting wiser, some of the signs say otherwise hilariously.

The morning began with getting my son to the school bus stop. After we got on the bus, there was lingering anxiety for so many things. For instance, where did he lose his pencil-box? There are so many things that aren’t in our control. A dear friend called to check in with me. It didn’t take long for us to get around to his business, to trade ideas and to share advice.

In this past year if I’ve learned anything it’s that as I get older the debt that I owe to my parents, family, colleagues, and friends only grows. I’m glad to have such awesome people to share my journey.

How Goes the Running?

My average running times this year have improved from ~ 8:20 mins/km to < 7:50 mins/km. Today I posted a personal best of 7:20 mins/km over 3km. It’s great to follow my friends Shantanu and Sudhanshu on Runkeeper who’re posting times well below 6 mins/km. While I’m slow in comparison, I’m happy with the improvement I’ve been able to see and I think with the right plan I might be able to improve further this Summer.

This is me on Runkeeper.

Pune Angels

Angels who can trace a connection back to Pune and willing to invest in Pune-based technology Startups.

I know of *many* such stories.

The idea of Pune Angels has the potential to do tremendous good in our backyard. It came up in two different conversations. It goes to show you really can’t stop a good thing from happening.

I’ll continue to bubble the idea through the many digital back channels in our local eco-system.

A New Home

Sukshma now has a new home. It’s no longer hosted on wordpress.com and is now self-hosted.

I did it because I think being able to say whatever it is you want to say, without ads, without the constraints of some corporation is more valuable than ever.

That leaves me with another question – What do I really have to say?

I’m just happy to try out self-hosting and I hope it’ll work out for me. Fixing https remains. I’ll get around to it soon. And maybe I’ll blog a bit as well.

I’ve had to disable comments in order to fight off spam. It didn’t take long for spam comments to find their way here.

Perseverance, or the Art of Just Not Giving Up

At today’s deAsra Foundations’ Entrepreneur Excellence awards, Sonali and Anand Deshpande shared 5 ingredients that they believe were instrumental in Persistents’ remarkable success. They are dream and dream big; create your team, you must know you can’t do it alone; focus; be ethical and lastly persist. These are certainly great ingredients for me to take back with me from the event, especially that last bit.

I’ve written about perseverance in the past. I believe it’s the most necessary ingredient of the five. There’s always more to write about it as there are several miles to go before I’ve made it.

I do work with people who care about their work deeply. The upside is that when they’re charged up, it’s inspiring to watch them go at it. The downside is that when things aren’t going to plan, frustrations and tempers can tend to get in the way. I also know of colleagues who can be both passionate about their work and calm, composed all the time. I admire that quality, I don’t have it and if you know you don’t perhaps my experiences will help.

The temptation to simply give up due to change always lurks around the corner. It isn’t easy for all you entrepreneurs, innovators and even the smallest of revolutionaries out there. If you’re selling a product- perhaps the market’s changed, or if you’re leading a company- your backers believe you’re CTO material and not CEO (i), or there’s just been something unprecedented. Or imagine for a moment, you’re in the middle of that umpteenth pitch to a customer for a partnership you want, and it goes south in the exact same way that all the others went in the past. As you walk away disappointed, that recognizable thought crosses your mind “I think I’d like to just walk away from all this” (ii).

A similar sequence of events regularly triggers the urge of giving up from inside me. In the first of my many encounters, I’d cave in, respond aggressively by taking none of the responsibility for working on the root cause. Over time I realized that my response was working against me. If I wanted to thrive I’d have to figure out a way to beat that. While I’m now better at staying in the game, the cue still leaves me dispirited and it takes a day to recover momentum. I’ll need to make more progress to beat that response as well.

I’ve read about and applied a simple habit reversal training (iii). I’ve seen how it can help adapt and change responses to everyday situations. But can it work with the more complex and infrequent triggers?

The way it works is to help you in unraveling the instinctive activation of the response you want to change. A good intervention should allow your higher decision-making capability to step in and take control over instinct. Simply put, you then decide if you wish to respond differently.

The first step is to observe and list triggers that lead up to the behavior. Next, you’re required to notice and write a post-it or card for every instance you believe triggered the habitual response even if you went through with your habitual response. An x on the card can help indicate if you successfully sidestepped the cue, or a check mark if you gave in. At the end of the day, you count your cards and start over the next day. Repeated enough times, the act of writing “did not give in” notes on cue ought to replace the expected reward you’d otherwise get by giving in. If you stopped writing the “give in” notes altogether you shouldn’t even have that thought cross your mind (iv).

I’m optimistic that anyone can work on changing themselves and I’d like to give it a shot and share what I’ve learned here.

(i) I just couldn’t help that quip :-).

(ii) I’ve been there and it still takes me a while to bounce back from such an event even if I’m not going to give into it. Realising that you’re not going to give in also sheds light on what you really want from the situation.

(iii) Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg.

(iv) I wouldn’t say they never cross your mind as learned habits don’t really disappear but become dormant.

Enthusiasm Behind Perseverance

Mathieu Ricard’s notes on perseverance at meditation encouraged me to write about the examples of people around me transforming enthusiasm into perseverance.

At work, I have a colleague who’s now completed more than 2 decades as a founder, CEO of the same company. I had the good fortune of spending an entire day watching him work. His pitch about his company may have changed over all these years, but when the occasion calls for it – he puts in a tremendous amount of energy and enthusiasm behind that pitch. I’ll bet that intensity of energy has only grown over the years. I once asked him how he manages to continue to stay interested in what he does? “There’s always something new to pursue” he answered.

At home, my better half balances responsibilities at our home and a full-time job. She’s now completed 8 years as a professional and she has a sense pride in how everything comes together. Cheekily I’m always looking for opportunities to remind her how awesome our home looks now that we’ve finally been able to finish it and about so many other things that would not have been possible without her. Nevertheless, there are times when the balance goes out of whack and it becomes imperative to put out the flames of discouragement.

There are many such examples of perseverance in the people around me that I can uncover. I welcome the enthusiasm that I’ll experience in the night before I’ll go running the next day. Or the energy I’ll feel when someone new joins the team at work.

I eagerly work towards moments when users spontaneously respond to an application that I’ve been working on. Rare and special, these discoveries send a eureka-like electricity through the mind. From the users perspective, this is appropriately labelled the A-ha moment. It’s a well-designed application that’ll deliver this milestone consistently. If a user’s hit that milestone, they’re more likely to come back to use the application, refer it to others and to use the application towards their next moment. So now you know why in consumer software you’re a user!

It’s difficult to see how perseverance pays off in the near term but it’s important and I think just like the A-ha moment it’s also the secret behind every big story. Like financial interest, it does compound and the right efforts do pay off in bigger ways the longer you’ll stay at it. It’s evidence of such experiences that impel me to keep going and to work through the sticky stuff that the longer journeys tend to throw at you. At the end of the day if you can spend a few moments to call up some subtle enthusiasm for the challenges of the next- I believe that’ll hold you in good stead.

Meditation Over Time

For the few who’re keen on learning about my continuing meditation practice.

Through 2016 I was not very serious about my meditation practice. I’ve recovered lost momentum since the beginning of this year.

I was reintroduced to practice right after I met a friend of my brother. Let’s call him Steve. Steve stays in Bangalore and meditates regularly. He also frequents retreats (I believe they’re related to the practice of Vipassana). Right after the day we met, Steve was also nice enough to put together a Telegram group of his friends who practice. That was enough to spark some fresh enthusiasm in me for this habit.

I try my best not to regard myself by any means as more than anything but a beginner. Writing about it is merely a means of self-encouragement. Do keep that in mind when going over what’s ahead.

I believe my practice is deeper now than when I began. I stick to a lean method of working on concentrating on the breath and then later the more quicker pulse. If a thought comes in the way, I gradually find my way back to tracking the pulse. Occasionally I’ll think I’m tracking my pulse, but I’m not. Other times I’ll recognize that I’m feeling sleepy, as I haven’t had sufficient sleep.

With respect to the benefits of meditation, it does have a very subtle effect on the degree of clarity I carry with me throughout the day.

I haven’t yet experienced any serious downsides. Just like any other habit that you do and discontinue, there are unnecessary feelings of guilt that’ll recur when you’re going through a lean patch.

To share what I learned, it’s hard to justify the practice of meditation with anything other than the thought that I believe that somewhere in the middle of the practice there’s a long-term question that’s being answered.

Another observation is that every time your life takes a new turn, say there’s a new job, or a new house, new relationship – those are the least likely times when meditation as a practice will stick/continue to stick. New events tend to steal your enthusiasm for a regular and mundane practice such as meditation.

On the flip side, it’s a good practice to have when anxiety, stress, or fear are overwhelming. It’s in these times that near-term effects of meditation are the most needed and apparent. If you’ve been meditating regularly, keep this in mind and I think it’ll help you keep at it.

“You don’t learn the basics of navigation in the thick of a storm; you learn them in good weather on a calm sea. In the same way, it is best in the beginning to meditate in a quiet place where there is space for the mind to develop clarity and stability.” – Mathieu Ricard, ‘The Art of Meditation’.