ZATM by Robert Pirsig – a review

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into ValuesZen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values by Robert M. Pirsig

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are some books that will have you applauding the author for piece of magical work – and also widen your thinking horizons significantly. This is one such book. The deeply philosophical content is layered seamlessly into the story – a long motorcycle ride the author undertakes with his son and a few friends. Lots of “aha” moments in between – why do we love new songs only to have the craving die off after a while, when we say something has quality – what do we really mean, what does caring mean – a lot of things. Its a riveting read and I’d recommend many reads (with some time for reflecting on the concepts before continuing). You will certainly begin to see the world afresh.

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I am Pilgrim – Book review

I Am Pilgrim (Pilgrim, #1)I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Its a tome – 750 pages or so. It’s the author’s debut novel. That said, its a very, very good read. The scope is large too – terrorism, a murder mystery, espionage, action in multiple countries – there’s a lot packed in – and is plotted brilliantly by Terry Hayes. Would recommend it highly for your next flight or weekend reading – its sure to make the trip seem short!

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How to stay happy all the time (or at least be less anxious)!

It’s that time of the year, when everyone is actively looking for a “Kabali” ticket. Filing your taxes and watching Kabali – are the only two worthwhile goals for the month! The tribes on Whatsapp are profusely sharing  reviews/ opinions/ experiences on the movie – read them all and you realise an important fact – most of them are comparisons:

  1. Kabali rocks, way too good when compared to his earlier movie Lingaa
  2. The movie’s good, but not quite in the Baasha class….
  3. Thalaivar’s movie appeals globally. Almost like Muthu gathered popularity in japan, this one is likely too everywhere…….

You get the idea – everywhere the movie is judged, appreciated and rejoiced – and the degree of appreciation depends not on the intrinsic quality of the movie itself but on its relative compare with an ideal in the speaker’s mind.

Which brings me round to today’s topic – on how to be happy (or at least less anxious), irrespective of the situations we find ourselves in. As always, the ancients had this nailed down perfectly. When something bad/ undesirable happened, in their trademark, pithy way they had this to say (translated form Tamil – and not very well at that!)

“Bad luck that was to have taken your head, just took away your head-dress! Be thankful, persevere!”

In short, their remedy was for you to imagine the greater misfortunes that could have occurred but didn’t – a remedy that instantly calmed your mind. While seeming simple, it’s a remarkable cure. Let me elaborate with an example:

You slam your car against an obstacle and get your car dented (I recently did by the way!) and immediately start fretting over what you could have done better. You playback videos of alternate scenarios (With dent-less cars as the outcome of course!) in you mind – you could have driven slower, taken a better road, looked at the weather and chosen a more clement time to venture out etc. etc. Then the senior-most member in your family consoles you with the above proverb in her typically compassionate way. And you realize that the accident is actually much less severe that you imagine it to be. Consider the worse alternatives to a car dented but no other casualties;

–          The pain, grief and worry if you had hit an animal (or god forbid) a villager instead of the inanimate object

–          What if a drunken driver had hit your car at speed (and god knows in the early hours, there are many around!)

–          What if a tire had burst instead on the highway and you had lost control

The scenarios are endless – and from a pure probability standpoint are just as likely as that freak accident. As this realization dawns on you, you are grateful – thankful that a more disastrous outcome didn’t result and as a bonus you also become lot more mindful (perhaps decreasing the odds of future accidents as well!).

You can also apply it to situations where you are playing “victim” in over-drive mode. For instance, let’s say you have to go and inform a team member that their much awaited promotion is not happening.  You castigate the world and your system for being unfair (they could have accommodated an extra slot for him, the system seems pre-disposed toward another group etc. etc.). In short, the perfect moment to try out our miraculous medicine – the proverb from above. Apply it – and you ask yourself –  isn’t this task (distasteful as it is) so much better than for instance:

  1. The doctor who has to let his non-smoking patient know he has tested positively for cancer of the lungs?
  2. The policeman who has to inform his colleague’s wife of her husband’s death in a random, drive by shooting – being plagued by guilt himself for staying alive and not being able to have helped out.

And so it goes. There’s always a worse thing that could have happened -and therefore always a reason to stay grateful to providence. Further as Rumi quotes:

Where there is ruin, there is hope for treasure.

Its hard to internalise this though because we tend to compare our performances and abilities with those who appear to be lesser qualified than us and our misfortunes with those who are apparently luckier. Just shifting the comparisons will make life a lot less burdensome.

I try the approach out for a day – it seems to work everywhere. A slow driver who makes you wait for a signal more – check. A random motorcyclist who nicks your car – check. You don’t get tickets for Kabali on the first weekend – check.

You also tend to appreciate all the good things that have happened in your life a lot better. And that truly is the icing on the cake.

A hot cup of coffee on a cold evening – enjoy the heavenly experience (imagine Siberian prison life if you can for a really powerful view of what could have happened had you been born in another time, another place – this is what one of the world’s best ever writers (Dostovesky) went through!). Should you receive an award – cherish it unconditionally (imagine what Marie Curie went through!). if you have a friend to call and crib on demand – you are indeed blessed – most people don’t have this luxury.

Indeed when you practice this for a while, the sense of “entitlement” that pervades our lives gets transmuted into a sense of “humility and awe”. And in itself, that sense of benediction is a miracle of the highest order. Wouldn’t you agree?

A musing on why we visit temples….

Why do we go to a temple?

*To pray of course.

*Everytime?

*YesWell maybe there are other answers too

a. I go for finding a sense of peace. Unadulterated, spacious calm – it soothes me.

b. I go because it’s the right thing to do. The scriptures ordain it. I promised my grandma I’d go!

c. I go because it makes me feel more secure, more alive and – less lonely. I get to see lots of people chatting gaily, children running around, a few elderly people reminiscing on old times and dishing out awesome advice to the populace.

d. I go to be inspired by the people of all ages sitting meditatively, eyes closed and in communion with their best selves. It gives me the confidence that like them, I can get in touch with inner self too.

And so it goes. I am yet to hear of a consistent answer to this question. And in a way, I think this is what makes the temples so very special (and popular) – they are non-judgemental, vibrant places – and its upto the devotees to take what they want and for that matter – as much as they can. Truly temple’s a boundless ocean of goodness, you choose the vessel to draw from it – or if you wish – to swim in it (an extraordinary state where you don’t own anything, but enjoy everything).

Yes, I think that’s what makes temples special. The sense of them being a playground, a school and a mirror – all at the same time. And all of this without any scores or compares against anyone else. Even more importantly, there’s no pressure. There’s no ego either – you can speak (or cry/ vent) your heart out and the temple will soak it in without adding to the emotions; silently listening without judgement. And as we become sensitive to the listening, our souls will invariably provide us the answer we seek.

I guess it all comes down to just one thing. The temples are wiser than us. They have watched many generations of people live and have been petitioned for more asks than we can imagine. They have also seen the evolution of normal people into saints and what’s more intriguing witnessed the saintly traits residing in every human being.

Thus, they are witness not only to the gods within their hallowed shrines but to the gods in every human being. And they possess that supreme secret of not just divining the sacred, but of transmitting to anyone who seeks it.

Now isn’t this alchemy the thing we need most today?

3 magic words for your success!

Every generation has a favourite question. Ours seems to be this:

How do we find professional fulfilment and depth in a world of distraction?

On reading Herman Hesse’s “Siddhartha” last week, I discovered he had a very elegant and simple answer addressing this universal problem. The hero of the story (a monk who applies to a merchant for a job he has no prior experience on) exudes confidence because he has internalised the formula for all success. In three words, here it is:

Think. Fast. Wait.

Are these three words really such a big deal? Let’s dig into them a little deeper, shall we?

Think: Its important we recognise that what Siddhartha is talking about here is contemplation on a worthwhile challenge – not distracted, destructive thoughts. In our modern language, it’s best described as “staying and playing” with “worthwhile” problems.

The best way of course is to ask enough whys (5 to be precise!) to get to the core of the issue. And a playful approach to the “why’s” will yield better results than using a boss’s stick or an object of envy to prod us toward the truth!

Solitude makes a difference too. Reading and contemplation in solitude often uncovers “solutions that are not on the same level as the problem” (to touch up on an Einstein quote!).

Incidentally, Bill Gates takes a couple of “think weeks” every year – just to think and read, Warren Buffet estimates he spends 80% of his time doing just that. Indian sages often spent months (if not years) on wintry, himalayan heights actively searching for the Big Truths. They all can’t be wrong now, can they?

So best to pack your bags (or close your rooms up and no TV allowed!) and get busy involved in contemplation, discover a great idea to work on and subsequently get immersed in deep work! (do read Cal Newport’s lovely book for lots of insights on this).

Fast: Fasting implies limiting the sensory inputs and thereby conserving or even enhancing our personal energies. This energy can then be deployed to focus on the idea from your “thinking”.

The Gita beautifully explains how a tortoise best exemplifies the method of fasting – on seeing an enemy, it simply pulls itself into its shell. In the same way, Siddhartha recommends that we isolate ourselves from anything distracting us from our goal or leaving us fatigued – the wrong food, sensational news, 24*7 digital media, mass emails, violent movies – whatever. And once the noise dies down around you, the signal will be easier to behold.

Wait: This is to me the most important and yet the hardest thing in today’s times. You’ve discovered the area you want to focus on and knocked off the distractions too – but the work hasn’t borne fruit yet. You are impatient! Its worth remembering that all great work is akin to planting a seed. To grow into a tree, it takes time. You have to water it, pull out weeds, add fertiliser and maybe even sing it lullabies! You can never for certain say when it will flower – it depends on the soil, the environment and maybe pure genetics. But you’ve got to wait and you’ve got to keep helping it grow.

This I find is the hardest part for all of us today. In an always-on world, some guy (maybe you or a manager or someone!) is constantly out there with a measuring tape trying to figure how much the plant has grown. If it does not grow for 3 days, we sack the gardener or change the fertiliser – but ironically keep the accountant! The plant isn’t happy, the gardener isn’t and the accountant is hoping for a miracle. It’s a loser’s choice. And for all you know the height of the plant may have no correlation with the quality and quantity of output it produces – who said short, twisted plants can’t bear the best fruits or flowers!

The art of “waiting” that Siddhartha suggests we imbibe describes a state where the “journey is the reward” – and in this state of flow, we saunter to work. The “Joy of working” is the reward – not an arbitrary centimetre’s growth – and interestingly when this approach is taken, the environment gets diffused with joy and effortless work ensues……

Joyful work and anticipation often lead to a “happy state” and happiness leads to better work. This wonderful video explains how happiness leads to success (and not the other way around!).

A few realtime applications to validate this works everywhere:

  1. Feeling anxious, edgy through the day? SOLUTION: FAST. Switch off the news, email, social media (TV and phone!) ahead of dinner – to give you 3 hours of so of family time/ a wholesome read. Watch the edginess melt away of its own!
  2. Feeling angry because a prodigy/ team member made a mistake? SOLUTION: WAIT. Give him time and also provide him with a stimulating, vibrant environment. He will learn from his mistakes and maybe make better decisions than you over time!
  3. Worried about your relevance in the market today? SOLUTION: THINK. Take a week (or a weekend/ an hour a day – whatever works for you) off – read books, watch TED videos, attend workshops, meet with the gurus of fields that excite you – listen to what the best folks are thinking about the future. Pick the area that most appeals to you and specialise further. Take some time out and try out a prototype. You’ll likely find something good or branch out until you find a calling!

And so on. So to wrap up – here is Siddhartha’s simple and yet profound truth for great work.

Think. Fast. Wait.

Wouldn’t you agree?

 

Death and the lessons it teaches us..

The week saw a dear colleague suffer a loss – a sibling passed away suddenly. Disbelief, grief, anger – all the reactions that death triggers were on display.

As always, when you meet Death, you have to pause. This is true every single time. And this post arises out of that pause. For Death makes you reflect on life and ponder on larger aspects. It teaches us important things – to be humble for life is so much bigger,to reassess our life’s priorities and successes, it teaches us to appreciate our relationships and not take them for granted. Truly, everything is fleeting – including oneself – and while we live, we can make the choice to celebrate every moment – or live for a tomorrow that is uncertain. Most of us choose the former – atleast until the effect lasts!.

Death can also help put a spotlight on greatness. No matter where it happens, there is always a story or two of humanity and heroism that would not have been known but for the event.

When the person who has just died is an accomplished individual, the world invariably devotes itself to some constructive dialogue on his specialness. Think Prince or Micheal Jackson or Whitney Houston – their untimely death led to active conversations on their achievements and their album sales skyrocketed. We seem to have less time to celebrate the living and hence make up for it on their death.

Sometimes, “death” places a spotlight on a relative or a friend who has been of exceptional support to the deceased. We see the hero in them for the first time – indeed it can be considered the parting gift of the deceased to turn the lights on a person who has helped him/ her enormously during an important part of their life. Hitherto, unremembered acts of kindness and heroism are brought to the forefront.

Our language also becomes a little gentler and we treat the survivors a little more kindly – in a way, death brings home the fact that life is special and yet fragile. That dosen’t mean you despair, it does mean you need to “handle life with care”.

We begin to remember prayers from our childhood and remember others who were once close to us but have gone beyond the veil. Indeed, all encounters with death take you on a memory trip. Often, a smile arises on the lips as we remember fond times from the past and any minor faults of those no longer with us are forgotten. For defects belong on earth; once people cross over they leave behind their blemishes and take after the gods – a reason why they are offered garlands and a place in worship rooms.

Its important to understand that grieving is natural – indeed important. We grieve for the piece of us that disappeared with the death, and the grieving opens out a hollow space within us. Into this alter steps in a sense of peace (or God or understanding – whatever we may call it) if we allow it to. But this needs time and it needs purging of our emotions and grief – a reason why grieving is such an individual, personal pursuit for most.

A lot of reflections these – not quite enough for helping a person cope with the big mystery called death. It’s sting is real and hard, often though, it does offer some benediction and understanding over time – it is this that I wish for all readers who are in need for solace. Shanthi * 3 (peace, peace, peace).

A life passes away too soon…

The weekend started on a sombre note. A young colleague on a much-awaited road trip, met with an accident and passed away. A promising future and a million dreams aren’t destined to play out here on earth. We do wish and pray that in the heavens of his belief, they flower; and for a sense of peace and solace to comfort his family. Time alone can heal – and not entirely at that.

I reflect upon yesterday – the young man must have been hurriedly working for an “important” meeting on Monday while his mind replayed happy scenes of a weekend retreat. The Monday meet isn’t important now; nor doesn’t the weekend laughter ring as loud – for they will not come. Without the hero, the movie cannot exist.

It’s a powerful wake up call. One may argue that Nature is unkind – she could have taken older people, far sicker people – and yet she favoured one who was in the pink of health and cheers. Its an unhelpful argument – we are but spectators in her grand show, we can see but cannot understand.

We may not understand, but we can take up the baton from this young life that has passed over. Uncertain is life, more solid though are memories and aspirations he shared with us. Let’s pick up a thread and make it come alive. Legacies are created an inspired act at a time – and he certainly deserves one.

Falling off the pedastal

As a rule, we like to put our celebrities on pedestals. For a change, I thought about a different context – how about when we are placed on a pedestal and brought down (and before you call it narcissistic, let me assure you that each of us is held up to a pedestal by someone – a team member, a friend, a relative (moms’ of course don’t count!)). The pedestal can be one of many types – you can be on a “kindness” pedestal (meaning someone sees you as a very kind guy), a “fairness” pedestal (probably outcome of a few appraisal cycles sometime!), a “wisdom” pedestal (maybe you just refuse to get angry no matter what the provocation), a “generosity” pedestal and so on…Like I said, there are infinite pedestals and you can find yourself being put on one of them –  irrespective of whether want to be on one or not. Of course choosing to stay on top is your decision.

Let me elaborate with a story. Recently, a team member told me I had betrayed “his trust”. Or in other words I had fallen off his pedestal. A pedestal he assured me he had put me on for 5 years at least. Picking myself up and brushing off the dust, I asked him what made him put me down – and more importantly, how is it that I climbed that pedestal in the first place?

What he told me (first hesitantly and then fluently) opened my eyes to a whole new world. It appeared I had taken some very fair (in his view) decisions consistently over the years. Decisions he had thought I would buckle under (like putting a very able but first-class-jerk in his place and so on) I had aced. I had also stayed true to my words. And then this year, I had taken a decision to promote someone (and that too at his cost!) who he felt was surely unworthy. There was consequently a breach in the trust, but he advised me that I could do do my image a bit of good if I could promise him I’d do the right thing the next time around.

I thanked him for his candor but told him I couldn’t promise anything a year away (given the economic uncertainty, I would need an astrologer mindset to predict anything at all with some confidence!). I also walked him through the logic of my decisions (as far as was possible and as well as I could stitch it together – I suspect some unconscious embellishment to make me look rational would have figured too!) – and the constraints. I emphasized also that while I owned the decision, it was really a group call – so while the decisions could have been wrong, they were designed to reduce bias.

But the thought didn’t leave me – something big was at play here – and as I started seeking wiser counsel, I realized it was indeed. Many leaders I admired told me they had experienced “being placed on pedestals and then dropped” as well. And the following were the major inferences/ advice to avoid being crippled:

  1. Remember the pedestal is a mental construct of someone else’s. And therefore by definition it isn’t true. So just because someone puts your image on the king’s throne you are not a king – its just another doll on a make-believe seat. If on the other hand, you start believing the whole pedestal thing, you will begin to need conforming to a different morality standard. Since you are on someone else’s pedestal – to retain the position – you will need to confirm to his views and morality and that can be very limiting – as we discuss in the next point
  2. A pedestal is always finite (or in other words limited) – a few feet wide and a few feet long at most. Not enough room to move around – put yourself on someone’s pedestal and you’ll start feeling claustrophobic
  3. Pedestals require effort from the guy who’s building it. And the more effort, taller the pedestal – and greater his expectations of you. And taller the pedestal, the more impactful the fall. This is why public feels “devastated” when celebrities fail (but are ok to forgive a commoner when he does not fulfil their expectations – afterall he’s just a man!)
  4. This does not mean we should be ungrateful to the pedestal builders. We should thank them – but let them know that the pedestal is fiction. And once they understand that, they will appreciate you more for it
  5. Where possible, its best not to not build pedestals for ourselves for others – if the object of our admiration is a wise man – any pedestal failure will hurt us not the object
  6. Try new experiences, meet new friends, renew yourself afresh. Pedestals take time to solidify, so don’t give yourself the time (both ways!)
  7.  Finally, never make the mistake of building a pedestal for your self. This will mean schizophrenia – feeling betrayed and angry on yourself – can give rise to a very destructive vicious loop.

 

So that’s it for now. One leader said it best “ Once you know all the pedestals are just dolls, it takes a tremendous weight off your shoulders and the world becomes your playground – enjoy it”. Would you agree?

Thoughts to take into the new year..

As 2015 comes to an end, and 2016 welcomes us – it’s time to pick a thought or two to live by in the year to come. The thoughts should be broad enough to be meaningful for us, deep enough to stay relevant for a long time and inspirational enough to ensure we persevere in our ambitions.

Where can we get such a set of thoughts? For this year, I’ll pick a few – one from a wise old Roman named Seneca, another from today’s Digital hero Jeff Bezos and one of the legendary Adam Smith’s quote brought to life by today’s uber economist Russ Roberts.  We’ll garnish all of this with some Alan Watts magic – after all, he did a lot to bring Zen Wisdom to the west. A mini-rainbow of sorts, pick the one that appeals to you!

Thought 1: How to overcome fear the Seneca way

Let’s start with a timeless recipe from one of the leading lights of Stoicism, Seneca. Seneca believed that “fear of an event“ was more crippling than the event itself. We worry about riches, about security, about being alone, about death (of course!) and many, many more things. Just being less fearful, would make our life so much more better.

How though can we transcend fear? Here’s Seneca’s timeless yet simple solution. While no amount of reflection or thinking about the fear can help us transcend it, living what we fear (in small doses!) will do the trick. Here in his own words (translated of course!) he describes how we can overcome the fear of poverty (the fear of poverty is why we are “always” engaged in worrying about our financial security, our addition in working all the time etc.)

“Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with course and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: ‘Is this the condition that I feared?’” – Seneca

Before we dismiss this as a lofty philosophy of an academic, it’s worth pondering on the fact that he met his fate (condemned to death by the emperor on false pretenses) with unusual calmness and poise. Truly, a wise man teaching us wise things.

Thought 2: Choosing wisely – Bezos’ regret minimization framework

All of us have had occasions when we need to make a choice and we wonder how to go about it. Do we go for what our “heart” tells us or what our “mind” recommends – when they are at such odds to each other? Or to take but an instance – should we go sailing for a month when it will cost us our hefty annual bonus?

Jeff Bezos faced a similar dilemma 15 years back. He was torn between choosing to embark on an uncertain dream (starting amazon.com) or continuing with his job (which included the afore mentioned “big bonus!”). In his inimitable style (and words) here’s him thinking this through:

I went to my boss and said to him, “You know, I’m going to go do this crazy thing and I’m going to start this company selling books online.” This was something that I had already been talking to him about in a sort of more general context, but then he said, “Let’s go on a walk.” And, we went on a two hour walk in Central Park in New York City and the conclusion of that was this. He said, “You know, this actually sounds like a really good idea to me, but it sounds like it would be a better idea for somebody who didn’t already have a good job.” He convinced me to think about it for 48 hours before making a final decision.

So, I went away and was trying to find the right framework in which to make that kind of big decision. I had already talked to my wife about this, and she was very supportive and said, “Look, you know you can count me in 100 percent, whatever you want to do.” It’s true she had married this fairly stable guy in a stable career path, and now he wanted to go do this crazy thing, but she was 100 percent supportive. So, it really was a decision that I had to make for myself, and the framework I found which made the decision incredibly easy was what I called – which only a nerd would call – a “regret minimization framework.”

So, I wanted to project myself forward to age 80 and say, “Okay, now I’m looking back on my life. I want to have minimized the number of regrets I have.” I knew that when I was 80 I was not going to regret having tried this. I was not going to regret trying to participate in this thing called the Internet that I thought was going to be a really big deal. I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not ever having tried. I knew that that would haunt me every day, and so, when I thought about it that way it was an incredibly easy decision. And, I think that’s very good. If you can project yourself out to age 80 and sort of think, “What will I think at that time?” it gets you away from some of the daily pieces of confusion. You know, I left this Wall Street firm in the middle of the year. When you do that, you walk away from your annual bonus. That’s the kind of thing that in the short-term can confuse you, but if you think about the long-term then you can really make good life decisions that you won’t regret later.

Here is the full interview – savour it….

 And the last – making the world a better place and other such big “points of view!”

 

Let 2016 turn out to be an year of joy. Afterall, like Alan Watts so charmingly puts it:

“Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the Gods made for fun.”

So treat life less seriously, and you are already on the world to a magical year. Russ Roberts has some more eloquent advice in his book “How Adam Smith can change your life”. BTW – if you haven’t read it yet, this is a must read book on so many different levels.

 “If you want to make the world a better place, work on being trustworthy, and honor those who are trustworthy. Be a good friend and surround yourself with worthy friends. Don’t gossip. Resist the joke that might hurt someone’s feelings even when it’s clever. And try not to laugh when your friend tells you that clever joke at someone’s expense. Being good is not just good for you and those around you, but because it helps others be good as well. Set a good example, and by your loveliness you will not only be loved, but you may influence the world.”

With that here’s wishing you a wonderful year ahead full of joy, fulfillment and growth. A year I hope you will remember for all the right reasons.

Of Temple towns and IT platforms!

A couple of weeks earlier I had the chance to visit the Pallakad Chariot Festival. This an extraordinary event when the devatas (the idols) on chariots are carried into the town – an occasion where Gods come to meet people as opposed to the general practice of people going to worship the Gods in the temple. The festival is a local favourite with close to a 100000 people visiting the city – ostensibly to have a “darshan” , but also to serendipitously meet friends on one of the hallways, indulge in some “impulse shopping”, feast on some of the local cuisine and generally have a good time. In short, it is almost a religious carnival going by the camaraderie, colors and variety of wares on display.

The shops that spring up are predominantly makeshift ones – sublet by the residents in many cases to nomadic craftsman. As are the food stalls – they sell whatever is seasonal and available locally (of course the ultimate soul food of popcorn and candy is available everywhere – this is an ubiquitous food after all!). New jobs become available (putting up a shelter, chariot mechanics, new car parks, repair services, guides, cooks, bookshops) and there is a force-multiplier of economy. Interestingly, most of the money created stays within the community – the goods (crafts, idols etc.) and services (tea/ coffee/ local snacks etc) trade have significant local diffusion.

  • As I happily strolled across, it struck me that there were several levels to this architecture:
  • The temple trust that provided a “platform” that made the festival possible. Central to the idea of the festival is a beloved God, a “chariot” and the rituals. Without these, the festival couldn’t take place at all – so significant attention to getting the right procedures, priests etc. is required. Also needed are some “institutional” patrons who can help fund the occasion and tap into the community mindscape to drum up support and enthusiasm from the community
  • The goodwill of the community is critical. The platform should coexist with the community –the communities need access to the festival, security and amenities. The community should not be put to too much distress with the sudden scaling that would happen. All of this requires significant organization and good infrastructure to be available
  • And once we have the above architected well (robust hero product, resilient infrastructure, motivated community), then the economic and social activity truly takes off. And these take off in a “self-organized” manner – the central authority (the temple for instance) may not even be aware of the multitudes of individuals who partake and make the occasion successful. And yet the community and the authorities step in when required (they cannot allow thefts for instance, it would bring the whole crowd down).

All of this is so akin to the IT platform product and “micro-services” architecture that are popular today. Micro-services are available through APIs – its upto the user to consume them as he sees fit – provided it’s legal and within the overall framework of course. One service then draws another – a kind of cross sell where you browse through some hand-made crafts and walk over to enjoy sugar-cane juice at the next counter. None of the micro-service vendors are a threat to the product or indeed the platform – they are symbiotic at best. If this is true, some analogies accrue:

  1. The platform creator has an idealistic goal – in the words of Guy Kawasaki “to make the world a better place!” Making money is important, but there’s a wider, more idealistic vision
  2. It has one or a few “hero products” that help make the platform sustainable and also find a few patrons who help expand the potential of the platform
  3. A community then self organizes around the platform and the “hero product” – they have some common binding – language, interests, vocation whatever. The community is incentivized (mostly by making it cool to be associated with the platform) to participate, bring friends and family and use the platform more
  4. Vendors appear on the stage to take the platform even further. They provide services that render the platform more valuable to the community while enjoying the security, community base and patterns that the platform enjoys.
  5. The cycle continues even further becoming a virtuous circle. Once the platform is up and running and a critical mass of community Is present, promotion at an external cost is not required anymore. The product is the promotion – word-of-mouth, free trials, gift cards, competitions and such become the model that carries it forward

The more I think about it – we’ve got more to learn from bazaar’s, temple festivals and community endeavors when understanding digital organizational models?!!