Saturday, July 9, 2022


Sharing three short stories that I came across via the casual reading pursuit over the last weekend.

In Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Penny Oleksiak became Canada's most decorated Olympic athlete (with 7 medals in swimming). After this feat, she tweeted-
"I just googled “Canada’s most decorated Olympian” and my name came up. I want to thank that teacher in high school who told me to stop swimming to focus on school bc swimming wouldn’t get me anywhere. This is what dreams are made of."

Beau Jessup, as a 16 year old, went along with her Dad to China. During the trip, they met Dad's business colleague who asked Beau to suggest an English name for her daughter. Beau took that request seriously since naming a child is an important event in one's life, something that stays for rest of their lives. She asked the family various characteristics they wanted their kid to have and suggested an apt name. Upon returning, Beau did some research to figure out that there wasn't any organized business (a gap!) that helped Chinese families name their kid in English language. She found an unmet need, while all Chinese babies were given traditional Chinese names at birth, there was a growing demand to name kids in English language too. (an opportunity!) In the next few years, she has helped name 670,000 babies.

Finally, the story of Brian Fitzpatrick from Google, which appeared in HBR a few years ago. Brian joined Google as an Engineer. In his quest to better the end-user needs, he identified strategic gap in the organization. He felt that Google wasn't doing good enough job in giving users better control of their personal data. His efforts led to Google building a product called Takeout ( that allowed users to export the captured user data from various Google Services. So much was the impact of this project that the then CEO Eric Schmidt started highlighting Takeout to regulators and customers to build a strong case for Google's non-monopolistic practices and focus on user's privacy.

To summarize:
1. Gaps (problem areas) are all around us, it just takes a courage and a bit of situational awareness to embrace them and turn them into opportunities).
2. Ravi Venkatesan aptly describes in his recent post (link in comments) "Those who see an ‘π—Όπ—½π—½π—Όπ—Ώπ˜π˜‚π—»π—Άπ˜π˜†’ in every problem have often built things that have pushed the world forward."

Quoting Stephen Covey-"Effective people are not problem-minded. They are opportunity-minded. They feed opportunities and starve problems."

What's your take on this ? Do share more examples from from your experience.

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Recently, came across an interesting article from The Guardian that rekindled my memories of a TED Talk that I reference later in this post.

The article titled "Rise and shine: how footballers are harnessing the power of sleep" (link in comments) argues the importance of sleep and it's direct correlation with performance of the top footballers.

"Sleep is the ‘most important aspect of health by a country mile’ so clubs are doing everything to ensure players rest properly. "

Why is it that the sportspersons value rest so much and we as a professionals undervalue it to the extent that we ignore it ? We somehow take regular late nights as a sort of badge of honour, something synonymous with working hard. Why doesn't rest and recovery feature in a professional's calendar as much as it should ?

Sharing this eye-opening TEDx talk by Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith ~ Work-Life Integration Strategist (link in comments)  in which she unshackles many myths about rest and looks at it in a holistic way suggesting 7 types of rest:


Catch the summary of the talk my sketchnote but would urge you to spend ~9 min to listen to the talk. More than ever the concept of rest needs to be understood and inculcated in today's times.

My bonus learning:
Sleep and rest are not the same thing, although many of us incorrectly confuse the two.

Which of these types of rest do you practice ? Do share your experiences.

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Just finished reading a book titled- "Booming Digital Stars", which captures the journey of 11 successful digital creators from India. The common theme that appeared in all the featured stories was that of people choosing to back their with innate passions, strengths and talents and making it big as creators. They are the ones who found their calling as digital creators and jumped on the bandwagon of passion or creators economy.

Jaspreet Bindra in his insightful LiveMint article on Passion Economy ( traces back the history of web's business and shares a wonderful insight. When the original World Wide Web was conceived, Time Berners-Lee and his team intentionally left an error code 402, which stands for 'Payment Required'. The original intention was that every visitor must pay something to view a web page, but the schema was never built. Web business models evolved in an alternate sequence (as outlined in my sketchnote based on Jaspreet's article below).

Li Jin (from a16z) delivered an influential work in the field of Passion Economy and says - "In the past decade, on-demand marketplaces in the “Uber for X” era established turnkey ways for people to make money. Workers could easily monetize their time in specific, narrow services like food delivery, parking, or transportation." This lead to an era we know as Gig Economy. If Gig Economy was about mass standardization (think Uber drivers, Food Delivery crew etc.), Creators Economy helps one monetize one's individuality. (think YouTube Influencers, eBook writers, Digital artists).

Creators Economy (often interchangeably referred as Passion Economy) brings forward as new model of internet-powered entrepreneurship. While often compared with Gig Economy, Passion Economy is co-existing in the same ecosystem. With the tools for creation (such as YouTube, SubStack, Patreon etc.) becoming better and the payments getting frictionless (think UPI, Square, Stripe etc.), Passion Economy promises to be bigger in the time to come.

What's your take on the Passion Economy ?

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One of the defining moments of corporate leadership at the start of pandemic came in from Arne Sorenson, the former CEO of Marriott. Arne sadly passed away almost a year back after bravely battling pancreatic cancer. Despite his illness, he braved Marriott through the tough times. Catch the glimpse of his extraordinarily authentic leadership when he released a public video for his employees.

His 5 minute speech is a case study in compassion & empathy. He presents himself as vulnerable yet fully in control of situation- a rare combination. Here are a few lessons for me, especially in dealing with warlike situations:

1. Despite his frail condition, he made it a point to speak with employees. Simple lesson, often forgotten: Talk to your team, they need to hear from you.

2. He called the pandemic situation (for hospitality industry) worse than 9/11 & 2009 financial crisis combined. Lesson: Be transparent, don't sugarcoat the words. Delivering bad news is something a leader has to learn to do well.

3. He commits to forgo his full salary & his exec team by 50%. Gives a message that he & his immediate team are first in the line of fire before the impact reaches employees.

These learnings are quite well-reflected and put in context by Ravi Venkatesan in his book- "What the Heck Do I Do with My Life?". Ravi says- "Leaders are made, not born. While some people are born with leadership traits, the vast majority of leaders are primarily made by life experience, or what we call crucible experience." (Included my Sketchnote summary of the chapter)

Arne's crucible experience moment was dealing with the unprecedented impact the pandemic was having on his industry. This experience shaped his leadership.

Ravi also mentions in his book- "When the sacrifice is called for, leaders must sacrifice first before asking others to give up something." , this act of sacrifice was clearly reflected in the way Arne conducted himself.

Of his 63 years of existence, most of us were exposed mostly to these 5 minutes but the manner in which he handled these 5 min left a treasure-trove of learnings.

What's your definition of leadership ?

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 Till early 2000s, Britain had a pretty ordinary performance (by its own standards) in Cycling events at Olympics. It had just won 1 Gold medal in 76 years. But the world witnessed a massive transformation by the 2008 Olympics where Britain won 7 Gold medals on offer in track cycling and then repeated this performance at 2012 Olympics.

What really changed ?
One, it was leadership. Dave Brailsford was appointed as a head of British cycling in early 200Os.

Second, was an approach that Dave introduced. Dave was a proponent of an approach was called as 'The aggregation of marginal gains'. Simply put, it was a philosophy of searching for a tiny margin of improvement in everything you do. It came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together.

A few examples (among many) where Dave applied this principle:
- Hired a surgeon to teach athletes about proper hand-washing so as to avoid illnesses during competition. The team didn't shake any hands during the Olympics.
- To gradually improve athlete's sleep cycles/postures, they brought our own mattresses and pillows.
- They redesigned the bike seats to make them more comfortable and rubbed alcohol on the tires for a better grip. 
- They tested different types of massage gels to see which one led to the fastest muscle recovery. 

The whole idea was to think small, not big, and adopt a philosophy of continuous improvement through the aggregation of marginal gains. More than perfection; focus on progression, and compound the improvements. It allowed team to search for improvements everywhere and they found countless opportunities.

This is an idea that the author so beautifully expresses in his best seller (and potentially life changing) book- "The Atomic Habits". Have included my sketchnote summary of the book.

As James Clear sums it up wonderfully- "In the beginning, there is basically no difference between making a choice that is 1 percent better or 1 percent worse. (In other words, it won't impact you very much today.) But as time goes on, these small improvements or declines compound and you suddenly find a very big gap between people who make slightly better decisions on a daily basis and those who don't. This is why small choices don't make much of a difference at the time, but add up over the long-term.

What are the work areas where you believe the philosophy of 'aggregation of marginal gains' can have an impact ?

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