It’s about time

Time

There’s a question I’ve been asking myself for a while now – is time a man made construct or not? Days, seasons, years and cosmic events would happen even if we never tracked them, but our lives are defined by the time frame we live in – from a personal as well as socio-economic and technological standpoint. I recently got a perspective I thought I should share. I also found this overlapping with the devices we have used to track time. Hence these thoughts.

Form: For a while, the mobile phone was the watch, but wearables (my attempt at a primer) is the new entrant. I already see a little crossroad in wearables – the smartwatch/accessories like Glass, and the activity tracker, both connected to the mobile device. The former, in addition to being a chronograph, is aiming to be a personal assistant of sorts by aping many functions that a mobile phone does – GPS, messages and notifications, and contextually relevant information. (I liked this post on Google Now and Android Wear) The activity tracker, on the other hand, focuses more on fitness and health. What connects them is the battle for the wrist. Between Android and Apple, I’m hoping they combine both the above streams quickly. I’m also hoping that both will get better at moving from data to actionable insights.

Function: To bring the focus back to time, the form factor increasingly makes me think of time as an app. In this era, our control on time is negligible –  I can decide how I spend my day, (application of time) but I cannot really control my life span –  therefore we are bound to think of increasing its efficiency. I’d expect the device  to notify me on the best way to use my time – roughly speaking the bottom two levels (and a portion of the third) of my favourite framework – Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. But as we gain on immortality, we might have so much data on ourselves and the collective consciousness (related post) that it will offer more value in the top two levels – relevance and value to others (esteem) and self actualisation. The simple guiding thought is that isn’t time one of the only things that stops us from self actualisation, the other being economics?

Future: From a function perspective, I think the ambiguity on time (as a construct or not) exists because we can control it only partially. As we control it more and more our need to control it becomes lesser (increasing lifespans is one reason) it will automatically become a construct/’application’. (Very roughly, think of fire – before we learned to ‘create’ it, it might have been an enigma, but the moment we did, it was more an application.) Then, the decisions we make will probably be influenced less by time. Time will have to find a new way to be contextually relevant. Therefore, from a form factor perspective, I expect to see devices which provide us contextual applications of time wherever they are located eg. say bearables (implants, micro-devices attached to skin etc) that tell you it’s time for a heart checkup through an interface that’s probably an app on a portable device. It’s only a matter of time.

Even further on, the philosophical question to ask is that if one had an infinite supply of time, would one still measure it?

until next time, watch this space

The Change Imperative

Ever since I first wrote about institutional realignment, I have been more conscious of it and its implications on our lives. To a certain extent, even paranoid, because of the pace of change. Ray Kurzweil is hard at work to make himself immortal, and believes we should get really close by the 2030s. He has been right before on many things of this nature. Moore’s law, digitisation and everything related are also getting us really close to the singularity. I am reasonably convinced that I will see both in my lifetime. If you live to be 200 and have robots smarter than you around, what does that do to education, money, marriage, work and pretty much everything that constitutes life? On the flip side, natural resources are running out, and I can see the complications already. It’s not a good sight, or experience!

I am finding it impossible to wrap my head around what all of  this would mean to our concept of life. In the meanwhile, I do know that everything is changing at breakneck speed, and in order to survive, we need to be cognizant of things that can impact our lives – as individuals, and as organisations.  I have deliberately avoided the word ‘disruption’ because it gives me a sense of suddenness and it is a furiously debated topic these days. Rather, to quote John Green (said in another context) I think we’re in the first state of “Slowly, and then all at once”.  This, is my take on ‘Change’.

(Thanks Nikhil for helping on a couple of alphabets and Amit for Unsplash, the source of many images used)

 

The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama

Pico Iyer

One of my favourite authors writing about a human being who has intrigued me from the time I read Siddhartha. It didn’t disappoint at all!

What is it like to live, practice, preach a faith while facing oppression from one of the most powerful countries in the world? Even as Tibet becomes more of a Chinese province day by day – the Potala Palace is treated as just another tourist attraction and the streets of Lhasa are filled with entertainment and shopping options – and several Tibetans question the wisdom of his approach, he is respected across the globe as a spiritual leader for the universal truths he espouses.

And yet, he underplays the role of religion, and stresses his own humanity while creating a future for Tibetans that is less dependent on him. He has brought Tibet to the world – a culture that was as hidden as a treasure and also gave the world a brand of Buddhism that is universal in appeal. Pico puts Tibet well in the context of a world that has moved from too little info about itself to too much in a few years.

Pico also writes well about how even with all the respect, people probably see his images and messages through the ‘keyhole of their own priorities’. He once mentions an instance when the Dalai Lama cried- he was asked ‘what is the quickest, cheapest, easiest way to attain enlightenment’.

While much of the book deals with His Holiness’ thoughts and perspectives, there are also mentions of his family, his early days including the time he was forced to flee from Tibet, and quite a few pages devoted to Dharmasala. Dharamsala – where foreigners come seeking wisdom, antiquity and mysticism from every Tibetan they see, and some Tibetans play the part to understand and probably even reach the lands of ‘abundance and freedom’. Pico Iyer writes about the confusion faced by young Tibetans – on whether to stay on in Dharmasala or go back to Tibet to either change or be changed. Dharmasala – also the place to which Tibetans flock, braving persecution by the Chinese, just for a glimpse of their leader and their belief that at some point in time, he will solve their problems.
In addition to all of this, the wonderful quotes, the additional sources of information on the subject, and various perspectives all offer us some thoughts on ‘joyful participation in a world of sorrows’.

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Mekong

We’d seen Mekong during our trips to Kanua, and one Saturday evening, when we were in the mood for Oriental fare, we decided to drop in. Mekong is exactly opposite the Kaikondrahalli Lake (map) and on the top floor of a building that also houses various other food joints and even a gym. There is a fairly large shared parking lot, so you shouldn’t have any difficulty on that front.

Just as you get out of the lift, there’s a Thai tuk tuk to welcome you, complete with flashing lights! We got there by 7.30 without a reservation and just managed to get a table facing the lake. This section was already beginning to get crowded, though there is an indoor seating option as well. The decor is functional but there are some lovely lanterns and knickknacks to add some character to the place. This continues in the menu – shaped like a travel suitcase with the usual sticker graphics to boot. All the table mats have a different Did-You-Know food byte. All of this gives the place quite some charm.

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The drinks menu had quite a few interesting cocktails and we chose the Tom Yam Siam and the Thai Bomb. The first was obviously inspired by the soup but had vodka and rum with lemongrass, lychee juice and ground chilli. This was quite a spicy drink with all the flavours well represented. Loved it. The second drink was milder and simpler – white rum with green chilli. When there’s Tom Kha on the menu, (a little incomplete version) we have to have it! The soup was a little thinner than we liked it but had fresh coconut milk, but lots of chicken and mushrooms. We then tried the Stir Fried Chilli Pork. Though it featured a lot of red chillies, they turned out to be quite harmless. The pork was really well cooked and with peanuts for texture, the dish was scrumptious!

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For mains, we debated a bit because the menu had Khow Suey, but finally chose Lamb Rendang, Phuket Fish and Thai Fried Rice. The lamb could have been cooked better, but the gravy was quite tasty. The fish gravy was a little salty but otherwise fine. The fried rice was billed as spicy but was only mildly so. There were quite a few dessert options, but we were reasonably stuffed and asked for just a Rubies with coconut milk. We were hopeful of tasting something like the awesome Cendol we’d had in Bali. But not only was this delayed quite a bit, the drink itself was extremely meh – with gigantic ‘rubies’ and powder based coconut milk! :( Turned out to be quite a disappointing end to the meal.

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The bill was a little over Rs.2600. Not really pricey, because we’d tried out quite a few things. Despite the just passable mains and bad dessert, we loved the place for the ambiance – the lake view and superb music – and superb service. We’ll most definitely drop by again.

Mekong, 51, Kaikondrahalli Village, Sarjapur Road Ph: 8884122000/22200

Artificial Morality

It wasn’t my intention, but the title did make me think of the morality we impose on ourselves, and that perhaps has some amount of implication on the subject of this post too. The post is about this – we seemed to have moved from debating artificial intelligence to the arguably more complex area of morality in robots!  When I first read about robots and ethical choices, (did they mean moral?) my reaction was this


It’s probably a good time to discuss this, since a robot has recently become a Board member in a VC firm as well. Ah, well, in the Foundation series, R. Daneel Olivaw pretty much influenced the mental state of others and controlled the universe. That seems to be one direction where we are headed. The Verge article mentions funding for an in-depth survey to analyze what people think about when they make a moral choice. The researchers will then attempt to simulate that reasoning in a robot. They plan to start with studying moral development in infants.

Thanks to this article, I learned that there were different kinds of morality - operational morality, functional morality, and full moral agency. This is all fascinating stuff and my mind was racing in multiple directions. For one, did morality develop because living in groups was more advantageous from a survival perspective and to live in groups, there had to be some rules that governed this coexistence? Did this ethics then evolve into an acceptable moral framework? These may or may not be in line with our individual instincts. Does that explain why each of us have a different moral code? If that is so, can we ever develop a uniform code for robots? To be noted that ethics are a tad more objective than morals, so they might be relatively more easier to ‘code’.

I also began to think if the augmented human would serve as the bridge between humans and AI and as he develops, will find ways to transfer moral intelligence to AI. Or maybe it would just be logic. Alternately if, as per this awesome post on what increasing AI in our midst would mean, if we do start focusing on human endeavours beyond functional (and driven by money alone) maybe our moral quotient will also evolve and become a homogeneous concept.

In Michener’s Hawaii, one man of science and spirituality discusses dinosaurs with a man of spirituality. I shared this on Instagram, wondering if humanity will be talked about in this manner.

Hawaii

The changes could be the ones we’re causing nature to make and ‘huge’ could be our gluttonous consumption of resources. In the context of robotics and morality, I immediately thought of Asimov’s Zeroth Law “A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.“ What would happen when one set of humans begin to do something that might harm humanity? What would a robot do?

The answers, are evolving. It’s a good time to be human, and to be able to experience wonder.

until next time, moral science

P.S. On a  related note – Bicentennial Man – RIP Robin Williams :’(

Overwinter

Ratika Kapur

‘Mature’ is probably the first word I’d associate with the book. True, it does fall under the general existential angst category, but I felt that it does go beyond the stereotype – in the characters, the way they are handled, and the way situations flow. The story spans only a few months, though the narrative does go back in time to provide contexts and many events unfolding in the story do have a connection with the past.

I felt that the only truly complex person in the book was Ketaki, the protagonist. I could pretty much relate to everyone else very easily, but her way of dealing with situations and people was the little unpredictability that made the book ‘different’. ‘Overwinter’ means spending winter or waiting for it to pass, and that is pretty much what Ketaki seems to be doing. The novel starts with a rather dysfunctional scene involving her and her uncle, but that’s not really a good indication of the story.

Ratika Kapur shows tremendous skill in narrating day to day events (a trip from Delhi to Gurgaon, for instance) such that they completely step out of the mundane. This is also true of her excellent descriptions of human emotions. There is a sense of reality in the book – for instance, the conversations around the Nano or T20 cricket or Nadal vs Tsonga – that happens between characters. It’s as though I stepped into a living room and happened to hear these conversations.

The other word I’d associate with the book is ‘intelligent’. The prose is assured, the narrative measured, and though you may not get a sense of closure that books often give you, this is a wonderful read.

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Revisiting brand purpose

I had almost completed a post on brand purpose when I came across this.

discipline

I have realised that in my personal life, even ‘what you want most’ is a dynamic thing. I am not really arguing against discipline – there was a time when it kept the blog going. But what I wanted most was just simply that the blog shouldn’t die. To get back, in a rapidly changing environment, I sometimes feel that ‘living each moment fully’ is a better bet than a disciplined course of action towards a purpose.

Back to the brand purpose post. In the original draft, I had flipped Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In the human context, the hierarchy is traveled upwards, as each need is met and reasonably satisfied. But I wondered if, in the brand context, it should be traversed in the reverse direction. I mapped self actualisation (the brand version of ‘what you want most’) to the brand’s purpose, Esteem to confidence in that purpose and finding the first set of people who will help translating that into a working model, Love/Belonging to getting a community in whose individual narratives the brand narrative can play a part, and the last two levels (Safety, Psychological) as bettering the efficacy and efficiency of the brand respectively. Yes, it is fairly rudimentary, but think about it! :)

But the quote and my reaction to it made me think, is it possible/good to define a brand purpose that remains consistent in a rapidly changing business landscape? Maybe it’s cohesion, as opposed to consistency? Is a flexible purpose accompanied by an agile way of operating  the middle path? Are we getting to a point where the only constant in a brand purpose is relevance and value in the consumer narrative and the brand is guided more by a set of unique principles and perspectives that are constantly reshaped by its environment?

When does a hotel’s brand purpose meet AirBnB or a watch company’s that of wearables, or a bookshop’s that of an online retailer of books/e-books? When it affects business? Is that around the same time as ‘too late’?

High Ultra Lounge

First published in Bangalore Mirror

Sometimes when you’re high, you begin to brag, and sometimes it really can be justified – like when you’re a lounge on the 31st floor of the World Trade Centre, (map) making you one of the highest located dining points in the country, and when you command a breath-taking view of the city that’s arguably unparalleled. It is very rarely that you can get a sense of the city as a whole (outside of Google Maps) and the 180 degree view that High offers is almost humbling. But that’s enough of a high, let me give you the lowdown on the place itself.

It’s open from 5.30 -11.30 PM, and reserving in advance is a good idea. There are different kinds of High, each serving a specific purpose – High View is the lounge space, High Dine is more of a fine dining experience, High Mix is the place for a cocktail do, and High Edge is a private dining area. There’s a sense of shifting moods through these sections, brought about by the colours used and the lighting. Yet, despite the individual personas, all of these flow seamlessly into each other. The seating is trendy and comfortable across the spaces, and on a Saturday night, with music in the background, and the bright lights of Bangalore spread out in front of you, it is easy to feel on top of the world!

It didn’t really make sense to leave ourselves high and dry in such a wonderful ambience, so we quickly scanned the drinks menu – a mix of signature cocktails, classic fare, some interesting mocktails and everything else you’d need in a bar! From the signature drinks, we tried the Moon Lighting, the Spell Bound Bellini and The Last Order. I’d asked for the first, and the vodka based pink-orange coloured drink got me a few smirks from the guys, but that was settled by the Bellini, which was completely lady-like in its pink frothy (and tasty) avatar. The Last Order was a more subtle drink in all respects. The one mocktail we tried – Fame of Passion – was peachy and quite refreshing.

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The food menu, with a lot of focus on appetisers and short eats, is a mix of Asian cuisines – Japanese, Korean and Thai. We began with the salmon sashimi, complemented well by the wasabi and ginger, but preferred the Red Snapper Nigiri over this. Also in good form was the vegetarian dish we tried – the mildly spicy Shichimi-spiced Maki with tenkasu. The Pork Belly was quite good too – well cooked meat with a lime based tangy topping that gave it a flavourful pop. The Prawns Tempura also found a lot of takers – fluffy and crisp batter with succulent meat. The starters ended on a high with the fantastic Chilly Beef Asparagus, spicy enough even for the seasoned palates.

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On a relative scale, there aren’t a lot of choices in the main menu, and a couple of dishes weren’t available, but the remaining did suffice to make a decent meal out of it. The Beef stew was nowhere near what we’d consider a stew, but well cooked meat and mildly spicy flavours meant we didn’t really complain. The San Bei Chicken was a tad too salty for our liking. We had the Soba rice noodles with chilli to go with these and it was liked mainly thanks to its zesty spiciness. The seafood noodles was surprisingly insipid.

It’s a lounge, so understandably there aren’t many dessert options. To be precise, there are three, and the Banoffee Pie was an easy winner given that the competition was a fruit platter and homemade ice creams. The dessert wasn’t bad, though I can’t claim it was the best I’d eaten.

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At a height of over 420 feet and spread across 10000 square feet, High sets the bar high, literally and otherwise. Special thanks to Guru, who in addition to being wonderful at his job as the resident mixologist, also charmed us with his child management skills! An energetic yet relaxing ambiance, good appetisers, superb service, and a view that might remain unmatched for quite a while, High has everything going for it.  A meal for two would cost around Rs.3500 (Inclusive of taxes and service charge) The pricing might make it seem a little for the highborn, but hey, the experience is difficult to top!

High Ultra Lounge, Roof Top, World Trade Center, 31st Floor, Brigade Gateway Campus, 26/1, Dr. Rajkumar Road, Malleshwaram West, Ph: 08045674567

Linking learning & labour

I’m a huge Asimov fan, and am constantly amazed at how he was able to have a perspective of the future on multiple fronts. I was reminded of two of those recently thanks to their application (of sorts) in contemporary scenarios.

First, Hari Seldon‘s (pretty much the foundation of Asimov’s Foundation series) psychohistory, which was able to make general predictions on the future behaviour of large populations using history, sociology and statistics. The easy contemporary connection is big data and predictive analytics.

Second, a short story written by him called ‘Profession‘, (do read) in which every person’s profession is based on an analysis of his/her brain, and no choice is given to the person in this matter! In India, we seem to be already there even without the analysis!

Collectively, these two made me think of employment, and on a related note, education. The thought was that with so much of data available on education and employment, we should be able to create ‘tests’ to compute the interest and aptitude of individuals at a very early age. What this would aim to do is to eliminate the herd education that currently exists. Instead, children would learn things that help them in a profession for which they have the intent and interest, using say, a combination of traditional classrooms and MOOCs. Also, this would no longer be one part of a life cycle, but a continuous process – helping the individual thrive in a dynamic environment.

If you remember, LinkedIn was my representative for ‘L’ in the ‘change imperative‘ deck. That was because I felt that it had the data and the vision to be the catalyst for this kind of a change. I was very happy when it underscored this faith with the fantastic ‘future self‘ experiment, in which they identified the future professional self (5 year time frame) of LinkedIn user Kurt Wagner – another user Mussarat Bata – using various data points!

LinkedIn hasn’t really built this as a public tool, but just imagine the possibilities! A platform that shows people the possibilities which take them closer to their ‘purpose’. (remember ‘The Evolution of Work and the Workplace‘?) I sincerely hope to see this in my lifetime. :)

until next time, live and learn

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The Tao of Travel: Enlightenments from Lives on the Road

Paul Theroux 

Whenever I take a vacation, I arrive as a tourist and like to think that I leave at least partly converted into a traveler. I am forever envious of travelers, many of whose journeys serve as a purpose in itself. This book is an excellent little guide to what the author mentions in the preface – paraphrasing the Buddha – “You cannot travel the path before you become the path itself”, and how travel is also a way of living, and thinking.

In addition to excerpts from various works by different travel writers and adventurers, classified by unique and amazing themes from Railways, time spent in travel to Murphy’s laws, to imaginary journeys, how places are different from what they sound like and so on, the book is peppered with Travel Wisdom from various authors.

There are gems hidden in the pages – little quotes that somehow tell you that the spirit within each wanderer is essentially the same. The description of places and times by masters are splendid enough to transport you to locales across to world from Alaska to Africa and Russia to South America….And it’s not just the places, but the people who live there, the way they think, and one can sense the cord that invisibly connects humanity.

In 275 pages, the author manages to indeed provide a Tao of Travel across time and space. Must read.

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Social Nextworks

The impending death of Orkut (2004-2014) made me think of the evolution of social networking and its transience. Orkut lived ‘only’ for 10.5 years, and this is despite being part of Google, though some would call that a disadvantage. Facebook  has been around for the same time, and the fact that it is a force to reckon with is a testament of its understanding of this transience. It also explains the acquisition of Instagram, Whatsapp and the attempt on Snapchat.

However, I recently realised that I am probably more active on Whatsapp, Instagram and Pinterest than Facebook and Twitter. I am also reasonably active on Secret. That made me dig a bit deeper.

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(via)

What is changing? From my observations, there are at least two factors that are driving the change.

Perspectives on connectivity: The early era was fueled by the need to connect. Facebook is soaring well beyond a billion users, and its longevity is (also) because the need still exists. It continues to look for better ways to do this, manifested through front end and back end changes. But despite this, and my own curation of my newsfeed by sending signals to Facebook, I am regularly overwhelmed by the volume. This goes for Twitter too. Personally, I have treated these platforms as a means of self expression. I would also like to choose the people whose perspectives I want, and who are entitled to a judgment, if any. But that’s not so easily done on popular platforms.

That’s when I start to look at the many ways to handle this – from social networks to messaging apps. I could go to where the crowds are relatively less and/or are more ‘focused’ – by domain or use cases, (LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram) I could interact with smaller groups, (WhatsApp) use ephemerality (Snapchat) or be anonymous (Secret) As I mentioned, at least three of these work for me. A wonderful nuance I caught in Mitch Joel ‘s prophetic ‘The Next Big Thing Online Could Well Be Anonymity‘, is that it may not just be ‘something to hide’ that makes some prefer anonymity, but it could also be so that ‘who they are will not become a focal point within that discussion’. Anonymity on the web is not new, but many of its enablers are.

Devices: The networks of an earlier era (eg.Facebook) were made for desktop and had to adapt for mobile. On the other hand, Instagram, Whatsapp, Secret, Snapchat etc are mobile natives. Given the increasing ubiquity of smartphones, their growth is not surprising.

What are the possible business models and what’s a brand to do? As more and more users flock to these new platforms, they would need to mature, with business models which could mean associations with brands – the journey from social network to social media.

Instagram and Pinterest are already social media, making advertising at least one of their revenue sources. WhatsApp does not like advertising and already makes money on downloads. Its competitors like Line, KakaoTalk, WeChat etc, however, have found various other means - virtual items, (stickers, in app purchases in free video games) promotional messages, baby steps in electronic payment handling fees, and interesting tie-ups. Snapchat already has many marketers on it and is likely to offer promotion options too, probably tied to a time bound event.

Secret has a lot of negativity surrounding it – s3x talk and startup malice and being just a fad – and there are comparisons to Formspring and its demise despite funding. But beyond advertising and in app puchases, maybe, there’s also potential for insights on a brand and its use cases? Things that cannot be found on indexed platforms. Also, Whisper already has a content deal with Buzzfeed.

Analytics for such platforms haven’t even really begun yet, but it can’t be far away. But more importantly, all of these platforms are potential enablers for a brand to take forward its narrative and become relevant to its users. It continues to be about storytelling, and digital.