Thursday, October 28, 2010

Not profits, but Autonomy, Mastery & Purpose - Dan Pink

Here's a great video that Dan Pink has put up. The animation is engaging, but the core message is even better, the one he has espoused in his book "Drive."

We are not all mere "profit-maximizers," but we all want three other things:
Autonomy. Mastery. Purpose.

Take a look at the video below.

RSA Animate -- Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us from Daniel Pink on Vimeo.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Memory Decline Accompanies Early Retirement - NYTimes

I worry that my cognitive abilities will rapidly decline since I no longer engage in the technical problem-solving that I used to, while working. Hoping to counter this, I've been diligent about attempting at least a few puzzles, chess problems, Sudoku, Gears, and a number of similar "mental ability" games, practically on a daily basis.

And then I come across this in an article:
Data from the United States, England and 11 other European countries suggest that the earlier people retire, the more quickly their memories decline.
And almost as if to counter my exact thinking, this sentence:
And research has failed to support the premise that mastering things like memory exercises, crossword puzzles and games like Sudoku carry over into real life, improving overall functioning.
The article by Gina Kolata titled "Taking Early Retirement May Retire Memory, Too," goes on to say that going to work regularly does contribute to cognitive functioning. It also states that this is all very preliminary and that lots more research is still needed.

Thanks to Rupal for the link. The NY Times article is here.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Quotable sentence from Tim Jackson's Ted talk

I will post about a few of my favorite Ted talks soon. Meanwhile, here's a tidbit. I was viewing Tim Jackson's "Economic Reality Check" talk, and found this sentence so good that I had to stop and jot it down.

Prof. Tim Jackson talking about people's savings ratio and ballooning debt:
This is a strange, rather perverse story, just to put it in very simple terms. It's a story about us, people being persuaded to spend money we don't have, on things we don’t need, to create impressions that won't last, on people we don't care about.
Click the play button below, for the full talk:

Monday, October 18, 2010

Higher Taxes for the rich - Simplistic

It is possible to experience a certain Robin Hood-like righteousness in contemplating about taxing the rich and sparing the poor. But in this article, Harvard professor Greg Mankiw shows me why my thinking is overly simplistic.

His point is that if the taxes were raised further, the proportion that he (and his family) can put away from each incremental dollar earned becomes so small that he might choose not to earn that extra dollar at all.

The following paragraph touches on a slightly different point and it resonated with me. I did notice a certain similarity in our thinking. My possessions, such as they are, are quite modest. Prof Mankiw writes:
Indeed, I could go so far as to say I am almost completely sated. One reason is that I don’t aspire for much more than a typical upper-middle-class lifestyle. I don’t fly around on a private jet. I have little desire to own a yacht or a Ferrari. I own only one home, in which I have lived since 1987. Paying an extra few percent in taxes wouldn’t create a lot of hardship.
Read the full article here.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Purely a Consumer, and Nothing More

Here's my question: Is it okay to live life purely as a consumer of things, and not give anything back to society in return?

We instinctively look down upon the very idea of someone leading "a life of leisure." Why is this? I have been grappling with this question for months, and it just doesn’t go away.

Let's first back up and ask why are people working so hard at their jobs? So that they can provide themselves (and their family) a comfortable life, one that they can all enjoy.

But if someone had the choice to quit working, and didn't need to earn anymore, and was reasonably sure that they could lead their life enjoying the things that they cared about, should they take that opportunity?

Applying this choice to myself, it seems that I can argue for both sides.

I can readily see how selfish this life of leisure seems. Consuming without ever giving back to society. All those years of education, all of society's "investment" in me, wasted.

I have mentioned in this blog in the past my guilt over "not doing good to society." Interestingly, I never had any of this guilt when I was working a full time job. Since I was in middle management, I was decently compensated and sure, I paid a lot more in taxes. The extent of my 'contribution' was that I was managing (or mentoring) a few technically capable people, pushing them to do their best. But that was it. I wasn't really helping society in any big way, and yet nobody called me selfish.

But look at the other side, the argument for being a consumer of things that give me joy. People have spent their lives creating things that I enjoy. Books and movies (especially documentaries and foreign films) that I can never get enough of. Add to that innumerable thought-provoking web articles, video clips, and TED talks. Then there are the free online courses in iTunesU – lectures by the very best teachers in the world. Any decent-sized public library in the Chicago area has enough non-fiction DVD's to keep me watching for months. Lots of places to travel to, and new and interesting food to be sampled. In short, to consume in every sense of the word the things that I really like. It would be my way of respecting all the people who created these things.

Let's say (just for argument's sake) that someone had enough saved up to consume these things for the rest of their life. Should we question their choice of becoming purely a consumer of the things that give them joy?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A few missteps, even by Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs' recent accomplishments have become so well-known that it is difficult to imagine that he too might have struggled at some point, or that he too might have taken a few missteps.

This NY Times article by Randall Stross is about aspects of Steve Jobs that many of us didn't know about, or might have forgotten.

Of lessons learned from his years at NeXT:
"The Steve Jobs who returned to Apple was a much more capable leader — precisely because he had been badly banged up. He had spent 12 tumultuous, painful years failing to find a way to make the new company profitable."
In a way, it is empowering to be reminded that all of us (even Steve Jobs) have to go off and try different things, experience a few fallow years and learn from our 'failures.'
"It took 12 dispiriting years, much bruising, and perspective gained from exile. If he had instead stayed at Apple, the transformation of Apple Computer into today’s far larger Apple Inc. might never have happened. "
The full article is here.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Rethinking my Reading

I was busy for the last few weeks taking on short-term assignments, and hence the long gap between posts. I will try and pace myself better in the future.

One of the (many) reasons I gave up a full time job was that I wasn't satisfied with the amount of my reading. I loved the idea of having lots of free time to read. Looking at the New Arrivals section in libraries and bookstores, I felt that there was a huge river of knowledge to be consumed, but that I was doing so in thimblefuls. Also, I always read a book cover to cover, without skipping paragraphs, and this meant that I was reading far less than what I desired. I began to feel that if only I had more time, I could do justice to all the wonderful new books that keep getting published.

After I left my corporate job and had quite a bit of autonomy over my time, I was reading more, yes. But the river didn't seem any lesser just because I was consuming with cups instead of thimbles. In fact, with each book I discovered more books that I wanted to read, and all of this resulted inevitably in disappointment.

This post is about a couple of small shifts in my thinking that helped me rethink my approach to Reading.

I got the first idea from Tyler Cowen's Marginal Revolution blog. Tyler, a polymath I respect and admire, seems to endorse a 'snacking' approach to books and to food and to much else. In fact he seemed to be doing this even to movies, peeking into many of them in one visit to the multiplex.

It occurred to me that there was no rule saying that I had to read a book fully. So I eventually gave myself permission to browse books. When I know that I simply cannot afford the time to read a book, I will read just its table of contents, slowly. The way a book (of non-fiction) is structured can itself convey quite a bit. I then read small sections that sound interesting and satisfy myself.

And the second shift in my thinking was to focus instead, at the books that I do manage to read. This is still very much a work in progress for me. I am training myself not to view all new and interesting-sounding books as a huge to-be-done list, but to instead look at the books that I do manage to read. I am still working on this one, but it has definitely helped take off some of the disappointment I used to feel about my reading.