Archive: 2009

Happy Deepavalli

This Deepavalli was very mellow. Barely felt like Deepavalli.

Life has been crazy. Probably the most hectic I’ve ever seen and that’s saying a lot after the insanity of 2001 – 2003. Every day I want to blog but it’s a choice between 15 minutes to blog or 15 minutes to sleep. Sleep wins every time.

Except today!

But that’s because the plan is to make this short. And to just say that I’ll be back with more soon.

Hope everyone has a safe Deepavalli!

Defining success

What does every person on earth want? To be happy. But how people define happiness and therefore how they define success is partly the reason that so few people are, in fact, happy.

We are conditioned to accept the definition of success that society puts out there. And because our acceptance is so unquestioning, it seriously affects how we make decisions. How long do people stay in jobs that don’t make them happy but meet society’s criteria of success? Society’s criteria become personal criteria and then it gets much harder to extricate yourself.

I was so there. I had a box – a set of definitions I subscribed to that were universally accepted. And because so much of how I defined myself was tied to my job, the decision to quit and the process of adjustment afterwords was hard.

Alain de Botton has an interesting talk on this topic –

It gets better with time, but it’s still not easy. I consciously put blinkers on to exclude outside opinions when I think about my definition and how I am doing against it.

Would love to hear how do you define success…

Willing to pay

nytlogo153x23There’s some chatter about the New York Times survey to their customers on whether they’d be willing to pay $5 per month to access the content. They also asked if $2.50 would be acceptable. I didn’t get the survey, but as a long-time NYT reader, my answer would be an unequivocal “Yes, absolutely”.

What’s interesting is that this debate comes on the back of the larger debate around Wired editor Chris Anderson’s book, Free. I haven’t read his book (although I have read reviews) and I also read Malcolm Gladwell’s retort. When Chris Anderson says “free”, he means free to the consumer – but the reality is that nothing that takes time or effort to produce is ever free – someone is paying. Either the producer is paying for her own costs and giving away the end product or advertisers are supporting the product.

And that’s what is important to realize. The cost to produce something is not free (even if the cost to transmit and disseminate it may be close to free). So what happens when the producer has to get paid?

Let’s come back to the NY Times. Everyone is jumping up and down saying newspapers are dead. Agreed – I haven’t bought a printed paper in over 8 years. But journalism is not dead. Not even close. Today, I cannot go to one place and get the incredible breath and depth that the Times offers me. I can’t find exceptional political insight and funny technological coverage in a blog. If you point me to the Huffington Post (a site I was addicted to during the elections), I’d say, yep, great example of online journalism.

The journalists at the Times are fabulous at what they do. And they have to get paid to be able to continue to do what they are good at. So what’s the solution? It appears that advertising revenues online cannot cover those costs. It comes down to having the consumer pay something.

My recommendation is to allow consumers to get a certain number of articles free each month – say 10 articles. After that they get charged the $5 fee and they can read anything they want, including all the archives, for the rest of the month. For a frequent reader, like myself, I’d rather just have them autobill me. Forget the 10 free articles a month. I’ll blow through that on day 1 or 2 at the latest.

For the customer who comes to the NY Times site very rarely, their experience doesn’t change either – they can read their one or two articles and leave without feeling any pain.

The middle section – the group that reads maybe 20 articles will dither. But, $5 is about 1.25 Starbucks coffees. At $2.50 it is less than a Starbucks. Quality content written by journalists who are the best in their fields, edited by a top team of editors, across an incredibly wide range of topics for an entire month on one hand. One cup of coffee on the other. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

The issue is that we’ve been trained to expect content on the internet to be free. Retraining ourselves will be hard, but not impossible. If it is a question of not reading the NY Times or paying $5, I’d gladly pay the $5. I think they should offer a family rate too – so for something like $10, up to 5 people can read the Times.

Now for some caveats: I’m willing to pay to sustain the journalists and editors that bring me the content. I am not, however, willing to pay to sustain high-cost printing technology and all the infrastructural and organizational fat that is needed to support the print side of the business. As a consumer, I can’t really make that allocation, but I hope the Times will do the math and when paying print consumers stop supporting the cost of print, the print section gets shut down. Please do not make the eco-friendly online users support the dinosaurs’ tree-killing addiction. Oh, and while I’m at it – if I do pay, I really want the ability to embed the NY Times’ photos and videos. They are awesome and by allowing bloggers to embed them (with links back of course), the Times will actually get more traffic, not less.

Finally, the Times has to consider if someone else will fill the gap they leave with a great product that is free. The asset is the journalists. Unique individuals with unique voices. Not so easily done. And even if someone could do it free for a while, they’ll hit the same economic issues as the Times.

The Times seems to have explored a number of options – a couple of years ago, they had people pay for Times Select (and yes, I paid). I’m sure they’ve come to this after a lot of thought (I hope they have, although their decision to disable embeds gives me pause). To term paying for things online as old-school and therefore unacceptable is silly. And I, for one, am willing to pay.

Valuing forests

This is a brilliant example of using logic and business sense to preserve our forests. I wish more NGOs adopted this approach.

A MOST unusual document landed on your correspondent’s desk recently: a financial report from a rainforest. Iwokrama, a 370,000-hectare rainforest in central Guyana, announced that it was in profit. It added, more intriguingly, that rainforests had entered the “global economy”.

Iwokrama is part of the largest expanse of undisturbed rainforest in the world, which overlies the Guiana Shield. It has a unique history. In 1989 the president of Guyana had the foresight to give the forest as a gift to the Commonwealth for research into global warming. Today it is administered by an international board of trustees, who have devolved the day-to-day management to the Iwokrama International Centre. It is this centre that has been working to exploit the forest sustainably.

Edward Glover, one of Iwokrama’s board of trustees, says that it became clear more than a decade ago that the forest could not rely on donor funding to survive, so it had to look elsewhere for finance. The centre’s first job was to identify the forest’s assets and to exploit them. It seems to have perfected its art. Today the centre makes money in areas such as ecotourism, timber-extraction, forest-products such as honey and oils, bio-prospecting and forestry research. Its results for 2008 reveal that it made a surplus for the first time that year, with revenues of $2.4m and a profit of $800,000. The previous year it had lost $200,000. Revenues from timber were up by 44%, ecotourism by 26% and training by 22%.

When forests vanish, people suffer. That is why many believe that there is an urgent need to bring forests onto the global financial balance sheet. Last year Pavan Sukhdev, an economist at Deutsche Bank, reported that the world was losing natural capital worth between $2 trillion and $5 trillion every year as a result of deforestation alone. If money could be made by selling these ecosystem services, then the financial equation for forests would change.

Rainforests | Growing on trees | The Economist.


A group I’m involved with was embroiled in a debate. One side contended that passion was the most important factor in a blog post – do you care enough? Do you bleed onto the page? The other side maintained that passion without quality is just… drivel.

Forget blogs for a second – let’s consider work. Can you get away with delivering a sub-par, error-filled deliverable at work if you offer that it was done with passion? Work is not the same as blogging? Really? Why – are blogs your fun/amateur activity? If you think so, read John August’s piece on professionalism. And remember in this Google world, everything lives forever. And your name is on it.

What do I think? Quality is absolute. Evaluated on an absolute basis and absolutely required. In this instance, a Hugh MacLeod cartoon says it best…


The carcinogen-free store

In the past couple of weeks I’ve had several people say to me “Is it me or am I hearing the term cancer more and more?” Knowing a clutch of people who have or are dealing with the big C, I’ve had the same thought in my head for the past several months.

What’s going on – is it our lifestyles – what we eat, how much we sleep, how much we drink? Is it environmental – the chemicals in the everything, the air we breathe? Is it that diagnostics are getting better – technology is catching tumors that might have gone undetected in the past? Is it that I’ve reached an age where my friends are just entering the zone of risk and the parents are firmly in the risk zone?

It is probably a combination of everything.

But as I think about what I can control, I would love to be able to consume “safer” products. Of course every product is made of chemicals and not all chemicals are bad, but we know there are some which are or could be carcinogenic. I’d like to avoid those.

The only way for me to do that right now is to read a ton, educate myself on which chemicals are dangerous and then read every single label to ensure it doesn’t contain any chemical on that list.

But there has to be a better way – couldn’t there be a store that did this research and only carried the products that fell within the bounds? Since I’d want these safe products in every category, it would have to be a really broad selection – cooking utensils, clothing, accessories, etc.

Think of Amazon, but with a layer on top of it “carcinogen free (CF)”. This entity would do the research and identify the products in several categories that are safer. It then sets up it’s CF Store. All the items are on Amazon, this is just the CF Store’s selected short list. When a user shops at this store, the transaction is completed on Amazon and the CF Store gets a cut. There are no guarantees with this stuff, so the CF Store would do a to-the-best-of-our-abilities thing. But that’s a heck of a lot better than what I can do right now.

The CF store doesn’t just have to be the CF Store alone. It could also be the CF and Green Store that also picks environmentally friendly products. That would just be another slice of what’s available on Amazon.

Or what if on Amazon itself, there were filters- CF, Green etc., in addition to the Brand, Material and Color filters that already exist. I do a search and check the filters that are important to me. As I check more filters, the number of products reduce, but hey, I’m willing to deal with less choice for being more picky.

Does something like this exist? If it does, let me know and sign me up.

Here’s to the crazies

The crazy people will change the world for the better. The people who hear they are insane, it can’t be done, it’s silly to do it *now* and still go ahead and pursue their dreams – these are the folks that will have a positive impact on large groups of people.

The crazy people are special in many ways – most importantly, they are super-smart, very capable, confident, and almost universally acknowledged for their capabilities (unless you are an emerging crazy, in which case you have yet to be universally acknowledged)1

The people who rely on the status quo, have never earned a job or title on their own, and skate along trying to fool people might be fine now, but average is all they’ll ever be. These people look down on the crazies. They may secretly want to be one of the crazies, but only for the glory that will eventually await the crazies – they don’t want to do the hard, grinding work that it will take for the crazies to succeed. And therein lies the core reason they’ll always just aspire to mediocrity.

The truly bold ones – the ones who may fail big, the ones jump off the treadmill of safety – are the most likely to win big too.

This wonderful piece talks about how young crazies from Yale are pursuing their dreams.

it’s refreshing to know that the world keeps minting idealistic young people who are not waiting for governments to act, but are starting their own projects and driving innovation.

I know of a couple of others who had the courage and capabilities to walk away from secure, stable jobs to venture out on their own. To those crazies, whether you are in Madras, London or New York, my most sincere good wishes. May you soar. May your hard work and your idealism be rewarded. I’m rooting for you – you’re inspirational.

  1. My “crazies” are different from Hugh’s Crazy  Deranged Fools in some ways. CDFs seem to be creative or artistic, my crazies can be pure business folks although successful business folks have to be creative too. And my crazies may not pay the bills for a while – they will live without if they have to, they will adjust their lifestyle downwards. CDFs could work alone but my crazies want to start companies/ventures/projects. I am not quite a crazy, but I am a CDF. 

What you can control

It’s easy to get into funks about the state of our lives. Our lives have many components and there’s usually at least one of those pieces that’s off-kilter. And with the global economy the way it is, let’s brace ourselves – things will get worse on some dimensions for sure.

The only way to get through it is to focus on what you can control and ride the rest of it the best you can.

“You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control your attitude toward what happens to you, and in that, you will be mastering change rather than allowing it to master you.” – Brian Tracy

The same is true for negative people who are in your life. Negative people can drain your energy, but it is your choice whether you have them in your life and how you deal with them. I chose to cut out a lot of the negative people from my life (some still stalk me on my blog!) But letting negative people change who you fundamentally are is letting them win. If they make you wary and untrusting when you are fundamentally a trusting, open person, then they win. So screw them, cut them out and live your life.

Is this hard advice to follow? Sure. It’s very hard for me and I struggle at times to remain positive and ignore the negative. But it’s the only way you can remain true to yourself and be happy.