The shopping mindset vs. the shipping mindset

An average American suburban household keeps redoing their home decor and ‘looks’ every year. Life hacks is a great way to entertain oneself. It makes us feel that we are productive while it is a just a means to entertain and keep us busy. Standing desks, fancy bookshelves, Fitbit, etc are all life hacks. There’s always one more thing to buy before we get to do our actual work. I call this the shopping mindset.
The question is when we have all the life hacks in place, that is when we have a fancy office table, an ergonomically designed chair from IKEA, and a great 4K monitor as our desktop computer, what are we going to do with it? Are we using the standing desk to create work that matters or simply whiling away our time doing social media grooming? Based on how we spend our time we can easily tell if we are doing something productive or merely keeping ourselves busy. And, life hacks/tips/tactics is a great way to hide from doing work that matters. It’s nothing but, resistance, as mentioned by Steven Pressfield in the War of Art.
The actual work happens when we stop shopping and star shipping things. Until we adopt the shipping mindset of constantly putting our work out in the world, the life hacks are pointless. Obsessing about life hacks is seeking for a guarantee. In reality, there is no guarantee because “the person who invented the ship also, invented the shipwreck.
So, how do we know when to stop shopping and get to shipping? One way to do that would be to constantly ask ourselves, what our work is for. If what we do aligns with what it is for, we can avoid the resistance (in this case, it’s shopping) and get back to shipping.

We’re surrounded by people who are busy getting their ducks in a row, waiting for just the right moment…Getting your ducks in a row is a fine thing to do. But deciding what you are you going to do with that duck is a far more important issue.

In a long distance race, everyone gets tired. The winner is the runner who figures out where to put the tired, figures out how to store it away until after the race is over. Sure, he’s tired. Everyone is. That’s not the point. The point is to run.

Same thing is true for shipping, I think. Everyone is afraid. Where do you put the fear?”

The paradox of our time is that the instincts that kept us safe in the day of the saber tooth tiger and General Motors are precisely the instincts that will turn us into road kill in a faster than fast internet-fueled era.

The resistance is waiting. Fight it. Ship.”


Personal Knowledge Management Systems for knowledge workers

All these while I have been religiously blogging regularly without even knowing the official terminology of the entire process. Only recently, I came to know that it’s called Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) system.

A daily blog driven by your curiosity can do wonders in the connection economy. In a connected and social world, mere knowledge is not valuable. What is valuable is whether we can make sense of the knowledge. That’s what PKM enables.

Personal knowledge management (PKM) is a collection of processes that a person uses to gather, classify, store, search, retrieve, and share knowledge in their daily activities (Grundspenkis 2007) and the way in which these processes support work activities (Wright 2005).




Instead of digesting any random information that comes our way, we deliberately seek out information and knowledge about things that are naturally driven by our curiosity through the process of gathering. Once we gather the necessary information, we make sense of it by curating and then, share it with others in the form of blogs, videos, podcasts, ebooks, and presentation slides. Using our inbuilt ‘crap detectors,’ we carefully eliminate information that we are not curious about.

What an opportunity the internet has provided us. We are all writers, authors, teachers, and artists in our right now. We didn’t have this luxury in the industrial era, though. Only a privileged few had access to information, and they carefully curated ‘just enough information to survive’ and fed us in the form of textbooks and syllabus in schools so that we can be obedient factory workers. They shunned our natural human curiosity and made us all into obedient trained assembly line workers. But, not anymore.

Now, we have the privilege to become thought leaders and influencers in the world we seek to serve. We can thrive the way we are meant to succeed in this world using the tools that are available to us. Let’s not use them to watch more cat videos.

The common thread

The common thread that ties most of Seth Godin’s, Simon Sinek’s, and Ryan Holidays’ works is: be less and do more. Here are some recurring themes that we can find in their body of work.

1. Choose to play the infinite game where you outsmart yourself every single day.
2. There’s no difference between your personal and professional life. The reason your friends like you is the same reason your colleagues like you.
3. Be less, do more. Shed your ego.
4. Be totally present.
5. Seek out the difficult, unglamorous work that nobody wants to do. They are rare and hence, valuable and puts you in the infinite game automatically where there’s no competition. Finite games have time and player limits. Cal Newport also, emphasizes the same when he mentions people who have fulfilling careers have one thing in common – their work by nature is rare and valuable.

The grunt work privilege

One of the staff members at the nonprofit I work always find opportunities to make herself useful to others. She goes over and beyond her position in the organization and just focusses on helping others out as much as she can. I consider her as one of my role models in my career history.

While there are people like her, there are also, people in my organization that feels they are ‘overqualified‘ to do certain kind of work. I have seen this attitude in people especially doing data entry jobs. The attrition rate has been high for these roles in my organization.

When people initially apply for such kind of functions, they take pride in the fact that they are doing it for a ‘good cause.’ However, in a few months’ time, the cause and mission go out of the window as the repetitiveness of the task becomes more prominent. People, especially those with good degrees and qualifications, no longer want to do such repeated, monotonous tasks and ask for challenging tasks.

However, when they are handed over a challenging task, they fail to take accountability for it. It’s a difficult task, so there’s, of course, going to be a certain amount of risk involved. People simply want to claim the work without actually doing the work. This is one of the trends that I have been seeing in today’s youngsters and that unfortunately, includes people of my age group as well.

It’s a common attitude that transcends generations and societies. The angry, unappreciated genius is forced to do stuff she doesn’t like, for people she doesn’t respect, as she makes her way in the world. How dare they force me to grovel like this! The injustice! The waste!

We see it in recent lawsuits in which interns sue their employers for pay. We see kids more willing to live at home with their parents than to submit to something they’re “overqualified” to work for. We see it in an inability to meet anyone else on their terms, an unwillingness to take a step back to potentially take several steps forward. I will not let them get one over on me. I’d rather we both have nothing instead.

When someone gets his first job or joins a new organization, he’s often given this advice: Make other people look good, and you will do well. Keep your head down, they say, and serve your boss. Naturally, this is not what the kid who was chosen over all the other children for the position wants to hear. It’s not what a Harvard grad expects — after all, they got that degree precisely to avoid this supposed indignity.

I have seen this attitude even in my closest friends’ circle. I have friends who had spent an enormous amount of money to get an American degree only to avoid the indignity of particular kind of jobs. When I was working in the IT sector in India, I had colleagues who took pride in being a part of ‘development’ work and looked down upon people who were a part of testing and application support groups. Eventually, what happened was the testing, and support guys landed several onsite opportunities for some real global clients. Similarly, I have seen some of my educated female friends, who had outsourced their household chores and childcare because they wanted to focus more on shopping, watching sitcoms on TV, and attending kitty parties and not because they had to look after their aging parents and do philanthropic work.

This is ego at work. When we are ruled by our egos arising out of the labels that we associate ourselves such as educated and highly qualified we fail to distinguish between what is work that matters and what is not.

There’s a scarcity to do repetitive, monotonous work. It’s just like how, in India, there’s a shortage of maids for household help since more people have started going to school to get degrees and seeking for greener pastures in the name of white-collar corporate jobs.

The scarcity of anything always creates value. My prediction is as more people go after ’challenging’ work, the market is going to pay more for the repetitive tasks that are still important to run a business or an institution.

So, the next time when you say ’no’ to a role just because it’s repetitive and doesn’t feed your ego and pride, think twice.

He thrived on what was considered grunt work, asked for it and strove to become the best at precisely what others thought they were too good for.

Be quiet, work hard, and stay healthy. It’s not ambition or skill that is going to set you apart. What will set you apart, what is rare, is humility, diligence, and self-awareness.

Greatness comes from humble beginnings; it comes from grunt work. It means you’re the least important person in the room – until you change that with results. Be lesser, do more.

Hope we realize our egos sooner before it’s too late.

Keeping track of the right things

It begins at the primary school level math class. The chapter in our textbook that teaches us what are countable and noncountable things. We could count the number of apples using fingers but, we couldn’t calculate the amount of water using our fingers. Eventually, we get attracted to the ease of measuring concrete things just because it’s easy. That’s how it starts – our obsession with measuring things just because it’s convenient.

We carry forward this tendency to the rest of our adult life only to regret later, in our death beds that we were chasing the wrong things. Right from the moment we learn to count things using our fingers as a child to the moment we are terminally sick and are in nursing homes feeling lonely and scared waiting for death, we are obsessed about this dopamine-generated act of counting and keeping track of all the wrong things, only because it’s easy.

What you measure usually gets paid attention to, and what you pay attention to, usually gets better.

Numbers supercharge measurement, because numbers are easy to compare.

Numbers make it difficult to hide.

And hence the problem.

What does it mean to ‘win’? Is maximizing the convenient number actually going to produce the impact and the outcome you wanted?

Is the most important work always the most popular? Does widespread acceptance translate into significant impact? Or even significant sales? Is the bestseller list also the bestbook list?

Who are these reviews from? Are they based on expectations (a marketing function) or are they based on the change you were trying to make? It turns out that great books and great movies get more than their fair share of lousy reviews–because popular items attract more users, and those users might not be people you were seeking to please.

Or consider graduation rates. The easiest way to make them go up is to lower standards. Or to get troublesome students to transfer to other institutions or even to get them arrested. When we lose track of what’s important in our rush to keep track of what’s measurable, we fail.

When you measure the wrong thing, you get the wrong thing. Perhaps you can be precise in your measurement, but precision is not significance.”

How often do we keep track of the amount of kindness, care, love, generosity, humility, courage, and honesty we display? Not very often, I am sure. Because they are not countable. Because we haven’t developed a machine yet that enables us to measure these things with as much ease as we measure the amount of money we have in our bank accounts, the number of cars/houses we own, the number of keywords on our resume/CV, the number of followers we have, and the number of ‘likes’ we get on our pics.

The right numbers matter. When you are able to expose your work and your process to the right thing, to the metric that actually matters, good things happen.

We need to spend more time figuring out what to keep track of, and less time actually obsessing over the numbers that we are already measuring.

Such is the psychology of numbers. Quantification is an exciting process that convinces us to make that one last try at the slot machine, despite losing at all the previous attempts. The hormone, dopamine that is released as a result of seeing the numbers go higher is addictive and we will do anything to improve the numbers to maintain that feeling.

We must strive to keep track of the right experiences – the things that make us feel happy, loved, and confident. Since there’s no device available in the market to measure these, we must intentionally keep a track of it.

Price is the last refuge for the businessperson without the imagination, heart and soul to dig a bit deeper.

Our worldview

Our worldview is a tricky thing. It prevents us from seeing the world as it is.

Seeing is believing, they say. It cannot be truer in the case of worldview. Our eyes don’t lie but, our brains do. The inverted image that falls on our retina is the reality. But, as the image passes through our brain it is filtered through our worldview – our beliefs, biases, and prejudices. No wonder we make up our minds and take decisions by judging things through interpretation. We intentionally do this to protect our worldview and ongoing narrative.

Hence, it’s hard to change our mindset when things go against our narratives. This fixed mindset attitude prevents us from seeing patterns, opportunities, and possibilities in the world.

From an evolutionary perspective, change signifies fear and fear implies danger and death. This narrative, controlled by our amygdala, kept our ancestors alive in the wild. Unfortunately, even though we are way past the hunter-gatherer phase, the amygdala persists, misguiding us to interpret change and resistance as danger and death causing us to have a fixed mindset on things.

We must rewire ourselves to be naive, naive enough to see the world as it is. Our brain can act as a self-sabotaging device preventing us from leading a healthy peaceful life. Being aware of this fact is the first step towards rewiring ourselves.

For some reason, the concept of worldview reminds me of the Malayalam poem, Kannada by Murugan Kaattakkada. The first few lines go like this (English translation):

Everyone suffers from cataract,

Tired of seeing the blurred images,

All of us need new lenses.

On being a meaningful specific

When I moved to the US from India, five years back, one thing that caught my attention was how relatively abundant the US was. Huge cars, minivans, large mansions in the suburbs, bigger and wider roads, plenty of uninterrupted water and power supply and plenty of free lands with no civilization to name a few. No wonder they call this place the land of opportunities, I thought.
Over time I started taking all this abundance for granted, and abundance became the new norm since I have been desensitized to the lack of resourcefulness on a daily basis. I was talking to my friend in India, the other day and she took me down the memory lane. It brought back vivid memories and images of how I used to live back in India. That’s when it occurred to me that I am not only currently, residing in the land of opportunities and dreams but also, living a lifestyle that’s an outlier compared to the rest of the world. My consumption rate has increased by at least 20 times after coming here. In short, I forgot what resourcefulness was. I forgot what my needs and wants were. I started mistaking my wants for my needs, and it became overwhelming as my stress levels increased.
That’s when I stumbled upon this gem of a book called The Dip. I figured that this book is primarily for people living in a country like the US, where there is access to many opportunities and plenty of resources.
When we have access to many things, we tend to be constantly on an ‘exploring choices’ mode not knowing when it’s enough to simply stop exploring and commit to a few things. When we are constantly in an exploring mode to avoid FOMO, there is a higher chance of us becoming a wandering generality. This book was a wake-up call to me regarding committing to a few things in life and be a meaningful specific instead. The advice from this book is applicable in many areas of our life ranging from work and personal relationships to leading a simple and frugal lifestyle.
The Dip teaches you to anticipate elements of obstacles, boredom, and dead-ends of different things we enroll ourselves, well in advance, so we are aware that such elements exist, at the pre-commitment stage itself. Not only does it prevent sunk costs from occurring, but the plain awareness of these truths will help us decide when to quit something and move on the next thing and when to stop exploring and commit to building something meaningful over time. The book teaches us to not only manage our finite resources such as time, energy, and money effectively but also, to leave a footprint that we are proud of.