#Book Review – Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R. Hofstadter

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. A polymath takes you on a magical journey.

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R. Hofstadter

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What do a mathematician, a musician and an artist have in common? And how does this find resonance with one of the forefathers of AI? This is a book that plays out on so many different levels – infact more than a read, its an experience you are about to immerse yourself in. For example while self-recursion is discussed at depth, its done in a playful manner and through multiple points of view (with some adorable literary characters setting the stage before handing it over for some in-depth rumination!). Its clear the book is special to the author as well – just check out the preface and you’ll know how much the book and its life mean to him.

Read this book and am sure you will find it a rewarding experience. Its rarely that a polymath will take you by the hand and show you how he sees the world. for such an intellect, specialisations don’t matter – art, literature, math and music are all fertile ground for an exploration of on patterns and how complexity plays out. It’s a meandering, long read – treat it as a walk in the wild woods and not a formal tea at the garden – and you’ll come out with a sense of wonder. Guaranteed!

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Book Review – The order of time

The Order of Time

The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What is time and how does it flow? When a scientist of Mr.Rovelli’s caliber expounds his narrative (he is both a renown scholar and a storyteller), you are sure to be spellbound by the breadth of his topic and his ability to take you by the hand and explore it so beautifully. You will walk away with a better appreciation of time, how it flows, how space relates to it and of course with a sense of wonder at everything around you. This is a worthy successor to his exceptional book on Physics, a must read in my view for everyone – not just for the topic itself, but for getting inspired by a mind of great curiosity and genius.

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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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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?


Leading – the Tao Te Ching way!

It’s always beneficial to have our own personal, trusted coach to advice us on our performance anyday. How nice it would be if that trusted leader helped us understand how good a leader we are?

Here’s the Tao Te Ching doing just that – the following two paragraphs are reproduced from Guy Leekley’s lovely translation with just one change – have replaced “Teachers” with “Masters” in the first line:

Our greatest Masters
Are not publicly known;
The next best often
Become famous.

Some with much influence
Become feared and scorned.
If they do not trust,
They are not trusted.

So how does the Master work? Here’s the last paragraph from Steven Mitchell’s very popular and endearing translation:

The Master dosen’t talk, he acts.
When his work is done,
The people say, “Amazing:
we did it, all by ourselves!”

So which leader are you – are you a Master, the good and famous – or the one who is feared (but influential)? And would you like to stay that way?!!

A quick review of an unique book

So my good friend and colleague Dhivakar gifted me a wonderful book the other day – “Search Inside Yourself” by Meng. And knowing Dhivakar, am sure he would want me to share the gift of a review with everyone – so here I go!

The book’s author is a senior googler (google employee number 107 for all of you detail-loving chaps) and deals not with technology but surprise of surprises – – with “mindfulness and meditation”.

Now why would a googler (And a senior one at that) want to write a book on something like this? A few minutes into the book is all it takes to realise that this author is as a different as they come. His official title (self affixed I suspect) is:

The jolly good fellow of google
which nobody will deny

Intrigued you turn the pages and find that that he piloted this program at Google after consulting with multiple-giants like Daniel Goleman (yes we are talking about the EQ guru) and to his delight the googlers just lapped it up. Quite a few very inspiring testimonials from the participants dot the book and such run-a-away success at google has led him to aim for something a little bigger – namely world peace (yeah I know- a little bigger!)) – and this book is an effort by him to help folks such as ourselves who aren’t from the google family access the program and reap benefits. And he gets to enjoy the royalty too for the book. So a win-win really!

OK, let’s get this straight – isn’t this what you are thinking right now – Geek boy, meditation, world peace – that combo’s got to be boring!

Well, let me confirm its patently anything but boring. For one thing the author has a wonderfully self-depreciating sense of humour that ensures you leave every page sporting a grin on your face. To top it he has plenty of cartoons distributed throughout – these poke gentle fun at concepts in his own book – while enlightening you on the side. I did say its a fun read, right?

To round up this post, here are a couple of super takeaways for me – that can you get started right off the bat.

1. He starts off on the premise that “self awareness” is the goods for success. Self awareness is really the art of knowing yourself well – and he calls out some very simple methods to get up and running. “So why is this important again?” you ask.  Because it allows you to catch yourself before doing something unwarranted – if you can catch yourself before bursting out with anger at a colleague (and therefore save all that repentance and guilt that would follow the anger like a shadow!) – it makes life that much better no? Mindfulness meditations are his tools for developing self awareness – these are meditations in which you do simple stuff like experiencing how your body reacts to emotions (so when your fist closes and your somatic clenches – you know you are getting angry – and can quickly step out of the scene before an ugly episode!!) and watching your breath. The exercises take 10 minutes or less at a time – and the value is priceless (yep, just like visa!)

2. The second is the biggie – its his experience that the more “self aware” you become, the more empathy you develop for others (colleagues, families, friends, strangers – everybody). So its a case of buy 1, get one free! And what can empathy do – it can help you win friends, nurture relationships and all-in-all make you the most popular guy or girl on earth. And the more you understand another person, the better you will become as well – a bit of a virtuous circle if you will….

3. Finally, as your meditation deepens- a sense of clarity, tremendous productivity and perpetual inner joy become yours for the experiencing. So as he states in his quaint way – you can have your cake and your promotion too!

If you are one of those who want to try the miracle of meditation but don’t know where to begin, some of these exercises are a great startup point(each taking but a few minutes) and soaking in the abundant-data anecdotes may also convince you of meditation’s value in your everyday life – or at least to give it a try. For the experienced meditators out there, you guys (and girls) may get bigger insights into the why’s behind a few of the practices – and of course gain some good anecdotes to share with your skeptic colleagues (with a “I told you so right – now google agrees!”). Most importantly – novice or guru – you’ll enjoy the read. gentle, wise, fun reads are hard to come by – and this one ticks all the boxes. Convinced already? Why not give it a try and blog your experiences for all of us?