The lie of diversification: What woodpeckers and chai wallah’s know

Just like how we must choose to work right instead of finding the right work, we must choose to commit to one journey rather than diversifying our options frequently.

To make a journey, we must not keep changing directions often.

This is something that we can learn from woodpeckers and the chai wallahs of India – the art of unwavering focus.

A woodpecker can tap 20 times on 1000 trees and get nowhere but stay busy or he can tap 20,000 times on one tree and get dinner.
When faced with a dip, many individuals and organizations diversify. If you can’t get to the next level, the thinking goes, invest your energy and learning to do something else. This leads to record labels with 1000s of artists instead of focused promotion on just a few. It leads to job seekers who can demonstrate competency at a dozen tasks instead of mastery of just one. Hard-working, motivated people find diversification a natural outlet for their energy and drive. Diversification feels like the right thing to do.
Yet, the real success goes to those who obsess. The focus that leads you through the dip to the other side is rewarded by a market place in search of the best in the world.
If you make adversity your ally, you would insulate yourself from the competition.
A wallah is one who performs a specific task.  A rickshaw wallah drives the rickshaw, a dhobi wallah washes clothes and the chai wallah, you guessed it, makes chai.  Chai wallahs are everywhere in India.
Diversification is hence, a lie.
Diversification is a lie because self-determination (pursuit of happiness) is only possible with individual control and diversification inherently diminishes one’s ability to control its diverse elements. For every degree that diversification increases, one’s ability to control those elements decreases.  This decrease in your ability to control inherently undermines your ability to choose how that ownership satisfies your will defeating the purpose of having ownership.  Inability to control also inherently diminishes your ability to specialize and achieve excellence in whatever it is you do.  From economics 101, we learned that it is this specialization that provides a competitive advantage.
Then, why do we choose to diversify? It could be the monotony of crossing the dip and sometimes, even the fear of missing out (FOMO).
It’s tempting to diversify, particularly when it comes to what you offer the world.

Focus works. A sharp edge cuts through the clutter.
One more alternative, one more flavor, one more variation.
Something for everyone.
We get pushed to smooth out the work, make it softer, more widely applicable.
More breadth, though, doesn’t cause change, and it won’t get you noticed.
It’s so tempting to do a little bit of everything. All the tools are there, a click away. Or you can be a wallah. Someone who does only that one thing.
It’s a reminder that his success lives and dies on the performance of just one task.
When you go all in, it focuses your attention and effort, doesn’t it?

Hard work must be incisive – precise, and calibrated – to reap rewards. In order to make our efforts targeted, we must choose a journey that’s worth committing to no matter what.

In a world where the dip dominates, diversification is a lie. Quit lots, until you find a dip you can beat for the right reasons.
Quitting requires you to acknowledge that you’re never going to be #1 in the world – at least not at this.
So it’s easier just to put it off, not admit it.
Be a lot choosier about which journeys you start.
Know before you start whether or not you have the resources and the will to get to the end.
If you can’t make it through the dip, don’t start.
If you’re going to quit, quit before you start.
Don’t play the game if you realize you can’t be the best in the world.
Reject the system.
To be a superstar, find a field with a steep barrier between those who try and those who succeed.
In a state of joy and clarity within yourself, you must choose what you wish to do, then do only that. The mind and emotions are capable of leading you in circles and changing direction every day. If you change directions too often, you are obviously not interested in getting anywhere.
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Self-awareness for a holistic problem-solving

Many of us are extremely good at providing cosmetic fixes to problems that humanity faces. While some of the fixes such as pain management in medical care are amazing, many fixes are merely cosmetic in the sense that they are symptomatic treatments and doesn’t necessarily remove the cause.
Any problem that can be perceived by our five senses is wonderfully solved using cosmetic fixes. For instance, in the US, waste disposal problem is well organized where trash bins are kept and emptied regularly. A more holistic approach resulting is a permanent fix would be to minimize waste generation by reducing overall consumption, which is yet to happen.
Similarly, modern medicine focuses more on treating the symptoms by finding and making easy access to drugs whereas a more holistic approach would be to eliminate the cause itself by ensuring easy access to quality food, air, and water.
We need to see and understand beyond what our five senses can perceive to find holistic solutions to humanity’s problems. It begins with self-awareness.

The choices we make when things are going well

More often than not, when things are going good, we tend to ensure we remain in the comfortable zone. We hold on to the goodness. It’s a natural thing to do – why mess things up when they are working. What we often forget is, things are temporary in life – whether good or bad. Everything is a phase.
As philosophical as it sounds, deep down we know this is the truth yet, we hardly do anything about it.
When we are in our 20s, we have our age and health to our advantage yet, how many of us make healthy food choices? We take our health for granted thinking we can afford to eat junk food now. When we have a full-time job that pays well, how many of us choose to be generous by doing pro bono/volunteer work? We take our jobs and salaries for granted thinking we don’t have to develop new skills and relationships outside of what our current job demands.
In reality, it’s the choices we make when things are going well that is going to help us when things get worse. It’s the right food habits and workout regime that we cultivate when we are still healthy, that’s going to be an asset to fall back on when our health fails. It’s the skills, experience, and relationships that we build when there is absolutely no pressing need, that’s going to be an asset to fall back on when we lose our jobs.
It’s this paradox of doing something when we don’t feel like it, that’s going to help us when things go out of our hands.

How we do anything is how we do everything: On working right

More often than not, we are obsessed with finding the right line of work and we forget the most important part, which is working right. When we hate our jobs, we try to switch to a different job or even a different career path but, we do not tend to think of the possibility of us working in the right manner irrespective of the job we have. 
In his book, Deep Work, Cal Newport writes a story about a Rabbi who wakes up early every single day to master Judaism. With rigorous self-discipline over the years, the Rabbi managed to gain a lot of knowledge on Judaism. A layman would ask what is the use of this knowledge. However, it’s not the knowledge per se that’s important it’s the effort that went in order to acquire that much knowledge that matters and the years of persisting a processWhy? Because, how we do anything is how we do everything
 
What we do doesn’t matter but, why we do matters. What we do is simply a reflection of the times we live in (for example, if Vincent Van Gogh was born today, he wouldn’t have become an impressionist painter) but, why we do something goes deeper into our own values and belief systems. It’s a direct reflection of who we are. We just happen to do the ‘whats’ because our ‘whys’ need an expression.
In her book, Mindset, Carol Dweck emphasizes the very same idea by bringing in the theory of growth mindset where effort is given more importance than talent and ability. Practice and hard work are the key components of a growth mindset. 
The magic happens when we obsess about the process and not the outcome (a trait of the craftsman mindset). That’s when the transferable skills are formed. Once we form the transferable skills we can apply them in any domain we want to excel. Success would then be a byproduct. We keep track of all the wrong, superficial things. We mistake the byproduct for the actual effect and that’s why there are only a few successful people in this world.
 
Similarly, Tim Ferris in one of his keynote talks about the DSS strategy for learning anything. This strategy is universal and it validates the point of how we do anything is how we do everything. 
 
 
Whatever is rightly done, however humble, is noble. (Quid’s recte factum quamvis humile praeclarum.) —Sir Henry Royce

Sometimes, on the road to where we are going or where we want to be, we have to do things that we’d rather not do. Often when we are just starting out, our first jobs “introduce us to the broom,” as Andrew Carnegie famously put it. There’s nothing shameful about sweeping. It’s just another opportunity to excel—and to learn.

But we are always so busy thinking about the future, we don’t take enough pride in the tasks we are given right now. Too often we phone it in, cash our check, and dream of some higher station in life. Or we think, This is just a job, it isn’t who I am, it doesn’t matter.

This is foolishness.

Everything we do matters—whether it’s making smoothies to save up money or studying for the bar—even after we’ve already achieved the success we sought. Everything is a chance to do and be our best. Only self-absorbed assholes think they are too good for whatever their current station requires.

Wherever we are, whatever we’re doing and wherever we are going, we owe it to ourselves, to our art, to the world to do it well. That’s our primary duty. And our obligation. When action is our priority, vanity falls away.

 

An artist is given many different canvases and commissions in their lifetime, and what matters is that they treat each one as a priority. Whether it’s the most glamorous or highest paying is irrelevant. Each project matters, and the only degrading part is giving less than one is capable of giving.
 
We will be and do many things in our lives. Some are prestigious, some are onerous, none are beneath us. To whatever we face, our job is to respond with:
  • hard work
  • honesty
  • helping others as best we can

We should never have to ask ourselves, But what am I supposed to do now? Because we know the answer: our job.

 

Duty is beautiful, and inspiring and empowering. Because all we need to do is those three little duties—to try hard, to be honest, and to help others and ourselves. That’s all that’s been asked of us. No more and no less. Sure, the goal is important. But never forget that each individual instance matters, too—each is a snapshot of the whole. The whole isn’t certain, only the instances.
How you do anything is how you can do everything. We can always act right.
P.S: I did a syntopical reading/listening of the following people’s body of work (books, interviews, talks). The idea of why working right always triumphs finding the right work is a common theme. 
1. Cal Newport
2. Ryan Holiday
3. Carol S. Dweck
4. Simon Sinek
5. Tim Ferris
6. Seth Godin
7. Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev

Scale and care

It’s hard to hand wash and take care of every piece of cloth we own if our wardrobe is cluttered with too many outfits.
It’s hard to enjoy a toy when we have too many toys to play with.
It’s hard to enjoy one particular dish when we are at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
It’s hard to pay attention to a friend when we have too many acquaintances.
It’s hard to care about a particular work when we pursue multiple interests.
It’s hard to take care of every members’ need if we live in a joint family or have a big family.
It’s hard to take care of every employees’ need if we own a large organization with so many employees.
Scaling up feels like a right choice since we can go broader, but, we can only care when we go deeper. We feel fulfilled only when we care.
When in doubt, go small.

Process vs. events

Anything that’s worth doing takes a long time. The outcomes that we are proud of are results of processes we followed over time. They are not events.
Therefore, success is a process and not an event. The process over the years gives birth to an outcome, which we mistakenly see it as an event. The truth is the efforts or the process we have been following over the years eventually catches up.
This theory applies to everything in life. The relationships we bothered to care about when things were rough pays off over time in the form of real friendships. The music lessons and practice sessions we attended when we didn’t feel like going and wanted to play video games instead, pays off over time making us good musicians. All the early morning runs we went for when the whole world was sleeping and when we didn’t feel like going, pays off in the long-term in the form of an athletic body. All the healthy food habits we cultivated by saying ’no’ to processed food and beverages over time pays off in the shape of a great body, great skin, and excellent health.
Processes eventually catch up. If we are unhappy with the outcome, chances are it’s a result of bad habits and behaviors over a long time.
What this means is that, if we want to become the kind of person we could be proud of five years from now, we need to start today and persist until we see the intended results. We often overestimate what we can achieve in a year and underestimate what we can accomplish in five.

On doing less but better

Sometimes, we need to do less for doing more. We should stop being everything to everyone and instead focus on our core strengths in both business and life to improve our work life and sanity.
By focussing on a few things, we could do productive things instead of merely keep ourselves busy.
Most organizations, from tiny to huge, operate from the same perspective. As you add employees, there’s pressure to keep everyone occupied, to be busy. Of course, once you’re busy, there’s a tremendous need to hire even more people, which continues the cycle.
When your overhead plummets, the pressure to take on the wrong jobs with the wrong staff disappears. Youʼre free to pick the projects that make you happy.
During the placement season in my undergrad, I hardly gave any thought as to what kind of work and what kind of firm I wanted to work in. Instead, I just gave in to the very first job offer I received. It did pay me well and kept me busy but, I hardly did any productive work. It was partly because my firm was a large-sized one and also, because of my lack of clarity of goals.
How many newly-minted college grads take the first job thatʼs “good enough?” A good enough job gets you busy right away, but it also puts you on a path to a lifetime of good enough jobs. Investing (not spending, investing) a month or a year in high-profile internships could change your career forever.
Consider the architect who designs just a few major buildings a year. Obviously, he has to dig deep to do work of a high enough quality to earn these commissions. But by not cluttering his life and his reputation with a string of low-budget boring projects, he actually increases his chances of getting great projects in the future.
We canʼt have everything. Weʼve tried and it doesnʼt work. What weʼve discovered, though, is that leaving off that last business project not only makes our profits go up, it also can dramatically improve the rest of our life.
The opposite of “more” is not “less.” If we care enough, the opposite of more is better.