Giving

3 04 2019

Adam Grants’ Give and Take is truly a gem of a book. I was enamored by the content and insights, as well as the engaging writing style with anecdotes and stories galore. According to Adam Grant, people fall into three categories with respect to giving:

  • Givers
  • Matchers
  • Takers

Give and TakeGivers are those who give their time and other resources in order to help others without expecting anything in return. Takers focus more on taking things, favors from others without giving anything back. Matchers are those who are more transactional in nature. They always return their favors and expect the same from others. In case others do not reciprocate, matchers punish them – by avoiding them in future or by making sure that the takers’ reputation is spread.

I find the concept of “Giver” very appealing and inspiring. Giving is their first impulse and second nature. They make the pie bigger for everyone and pay forward. Adam Rifkin (fondly called Panda), through his five-minute-favor concept has become the most widely connected person, making a difference to a large number of people, both directly and indirectly. You can read about it here: Pay it forward.

Interestingly, givers are both at the top and bottom of the success ladder. It’s because there are two types of givers – selfless givers and otherish givers. Selfless givers succumb to giver burnout because they usually give without any discretion that saps away their energy and hinders their ability to prosper in their own endeavors. They engage in something called “sprinkling”, which means that the favors they do and help they provide are sprinkled throughout their day or week, as and when the requests come in. The otherish givers, on the other side, practice “chunking” where they set aside some time for giving and provide help only during those hours. This way, they are able to protect their energy and momentum on the activities that are important to them while also being able to provide meaningful support to others. Another way to address giver burnout is to see the impact of their giving. It greatly boosts their motivation to do more and reduce their burnout.  Seeking help when needed is also another simple but rather underutilized strategy to combat burnout. 🙂

Giving benefits the giver in many ways – not only from the altruistic sense but also from the ripple effects. One interesting thing I learned from the book is that there is a magic number of hours that a person can perform volunteer work which provides the maximum benefit of giving without any adverse effects. And that is 100 hours per year.

Successful givers engage in certain common behaviors and strategies like below. Takers usually exhibit the opposite behavior.

  •  Be collaborative and give credit where it is deserved
  •  Create psychological safety
  •  Focus on collective good rather than individual gains
  •  Be a genius maker (multiplier) rather than a genius
  •  Believe in the potential of a person more than the current level of talent ( In order to be gain expertise we need to first develop interest in it and early teachers who encourage us and make the learning fun are invaluable. I never thought about it this way.)
  •  Engage in powerless communication
  •  Open to and seek advice
  •  Beware of and overcome responsibility bias (where one underestimates the contribution of others compared to yours in a group effort)
  •  Give energy and time due to a sense of enjoyment and purpose, rather than duty and obligation

Balancing powerful and powerless communication is challenging and needs certain level of emotional intelligence I would guess. I face many situations at work where powerful communication is expected, needed and rewarded. That said, I see several forms of powerless communication being engaged in as well. Specifically, asking questions, inserting hestitations, disclaimers, hedges etc., and rarely – asking advice. I think “asking advice” technique is so undervalued. I can see how it can be leveraged well, when used strategically. We can all ask more questions and more advice to sell more, to negotiate better etc. Even if it doesn’t come naturally to one, maybe due to cultural conditioning that “powerful communication” is always better, I think consciously adopting the powerless communication techniques will help us become more successful and actually better people.

So, intelligent giving is key. This quote by Herbert Simon says it all – “The intelligent altruists, though less altruist than the unintelligent altruists, will be fitter than both unintelligent altruists and selfish individuals.

So, can people be truly altruistic or is all giving a form of selfishness? I believe that feeling good about doing good is not selfish and is actually altruism. Given that everything we do is driven by survival and positive experiences, it would be unnatural to define altruism as something we can do without even feeling satisfied or good about it.

I think I’m a matcher.  Maybe because I’m very reserved and don’t really have a big network, and I don’t always really go about offering help at the outset. Having said that, when I’m asked for help, I seldom refuse, irrespective of whether I can get something in return. I think I come from “scarcity” rather than “abundance”, which prevents me from offering more without being asked. I definitely do not like to exploit others generosity.

Being a matcher, I think I find it easier and justified to shun takers when I realize they are just sapping my energy and time. I don’t really mind if I don’t get much or anything in return but self-absorbed people with their fakeness and consistent manipulation exude toxic vibes in my opinion, and leave unpleasant feelings in their wake.

There are loads of takeaways, strategies, and insights in this book. I found it interesting that the information on how much they are giving/contributing compared to their immediate circle/community, will make people to give more. The action items at the end of the book for an organization looking to create a more giving culture are a huge help. Here is the article about the same: 10 ways to get ahead through giving.

I’m impressed by the author and his work. I really liked the book. The major takeaway for me had been realizing the power of strategic giving,  and understanding the difference between an otherish vs a selfless giver. Even in this competitive world, giving pays.

While having otherish strategies are important, it cannot be faked. Giving is a mindset and more a way of life, rather than a mere strategy or just behavioral. Let’s all be more giving, not because it benefits us, but because it benefits everyone. One byproduct of giving can be happiness and peace of mind. It’s less stressful to be open and helping than be calculative and mean.

In my experience, I’ve seen people who are more helpful receive more in terms of network. To a large extent, I believe that giving/taking is cultivated from the culture, surroundings, circumstances and a whole lot of external factors. By being in the presence of more positive and giving people, we can all can be better givers. Genes may be a factor, but the external factors can have at least 40 to 50% influence. We need more Adam Rifkins!

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Lethal White

30 03 2019

Lethal White

This is the fourth book in the Cormoron Strike series by J K Rowling (pseudonym – Robert Galbraith) and it’s just as addictive and enjoyable as all the three that came before. Actually, I think each book is better than the previous one.

Lethal White is a long winded blackmailing and murder mystery which runs over 600 pages. As a rule, I mistrust huge books. It is usually unfathomable to me that an author needs more than a reasonable 400 pages to say what he/she wants to say. I’m sure there are lot of great books that are longer, but I cannot vouch for them personally due to my tendency to generally avoid huge books. I know I’m missing out on great stuff there (I’m thinking Lord of the Rings!), but I need to get over my anxiety of big books. Is there an actual technical term that describes my phobia? I wonder! A little digression – I managed to read Goldfinch (over 750 pages) and I absolutely loved every page of it!

In the case of Lethal White, I was genuinely perplexed as to how a murder mystery book can span over 600 pages. It just seemed either impossible or preposterous to me. Nevertheless, as you know, I’ve ploughed into the book and enjoyed it very much. Rowling’s writing is just delightful. The way the characters were captivating and the plot engaging, I actually felt bad when the book ended. I feel that in many ways Cormoron and Robin, the chemistry between them, and their lives are actually more intriguing and appealing than the investigation itself. It adds to the appeal of the series a lot. Lethal White has lot of characters and parallel threads, and despite that it’s rewarding.

In the acknowledgements section, the author claimed that the Lethal White is by far the most complex to write in terms of the plot. I can totally understand. It’s been 3 years since her last book – Career Evil. I hope she doesn’t take that long for the next one.  Career of Evil (Book 3) is my favorite so far in the series.

 

Strike





The Happiness Project

10 03 2019

HappinessProject10th-pb-c-1This book by Gretchen Ruben has been a delightful read. It’s the author’s experiment on boosting her happiness by following a set of principles and making changes to her lifestyle over a period of 12 months. It’s definitely inspiring to hear her story but my initial reaction was one of overwhelmingness. Happiness really seemed a lot of work. Of course, one can’t expect to feel differently without changing anything in oneself and/or in the surrounding environment. Of course, happiness is a journey and not a goal and the author’s experience helped her to realize and understand what makes her happy, the knowledge and experience of which she can continue to use in future if she has to sustain or improve her happiness levels.

She is a very meticulous and organized person and the way she planned and carried out every detail of this project is mind-numbing. I don’t mean to say that this level of effort is not required for anyone to be happier but one should definitely decide what they want to change and how much and set the right expectations on the resulting happiness levels.

Speaking of myself, when I target increasing my happiness and/or reducing anxiety/stress levels, I typically tend to focus on one or two “low-hanging-fruit” or “quick-wins” to get me going, instead of experimenting with everything. Happiness has been a major focus in psychology in recent years and I see many books, courses, articles, and conversations happening about it. It’s about the time when we move away from focusing on reducing the pain to increasing the well-being because we have made enough scientific and technologies advances so far to get a grip about the adversities. It doesn’t mean that we have eradicated all suffering, but just that we have tools to tackle most of them owing to decades of scientific research, while we practically know very little about happiness. But of course, that is changing. 🙂

Hooray for Happiness!

Sometimes it may seem an indulgence, but it’s important to understand that happiness is not synonymous with pleasure, but rather a grounded and sustainable state of mind that is full of meaning.

Ruben’s posts on her blog are quite insightful. Please check them out here: https://gretchenrubin.com/blog/?category=2262





Feminist Fight Club

5 09 2017

An Office survival Manual (For a Sexist Workplace) by Jessica Bennett

Feminist Fight ClubThis is one of those rare books that I couldn’t even wait until I finished it before I ordered not only my own personal copy but also copies for my friends.

It’s irreverent, hilarious, witty, sarcastic, and above all practical and helpful. It lays out the many self-sabotaging and self-defeating behaviors and thoughts of women that accentuate the age-old stereotypes and thereby result in the vicious circle of widening the chasm between the sexes in the workplace. It talks about all the implicit ways that both men and women indulge in that contribute to the problem. It provides sensible tips and advice on how to tackle these damaging tendencies.

It highlights the pervasiveness of gender discrimination at work and points out that today’s sexism is not overt but seemingly very subtle and imbibed in countless  “normal” behaviors. Nonetheless, it’s not less damaging. We still do have a wage gap, glass ceiling, and other ways of limiting the growth of women in their careers. Women are interrupted more than men when they are talking, more likely than men not to be given due credit for their ideas and work, judged harshly/negatively compared to men for same behaviors etc.

Even if we think of ourselves as very progressive, the deep rooted stereotypes and cultural notions are assimilated in many seemingly harmless and often times subconscious reactions and behaviors. Everyone needs to consciously work on their own implicit  (and otherwise) biases in order to be able to address this issue and bring out the change. Because gender parity benefits one and all. It frees everyone from the boundaries of the stereotypes, because that’s what stereotypes do – they confine us all – men and women. Men need not limit their actions in order to conform to the “macho-man” stereotype, which sometimes involves significant cost to one’s own conscience, morality, humanity, and others. They need not bear the burden of primary financial and career responsibility solely on their shoulders and instead share that with women. Rising above the stereotypes is a challenge but not insurmountable. They do have their purpose as shortcuts but it helps to evaluate them and make conscious choices instead of succumbing to them blindly. Knowledge and awareness is power.

Men can not only help by not engaging in detrimental actions but also by stopping other men from acting so and/or supporting women. Likewise, women can help themselves as well as each other through a network of support.

I found at times that the tone of the book is too brazen and bold, but that may just be my cultural conditioning restricting myself from accepting such a tone from a woman, as well as applied to women. 😛 Also, I felt that some tips sounded more like “how to be like a man”. And it seemed that the culture associates most successful tendencies to be “masculine” and the less successful or even detrimental behaviors as “feminine”, at least in the workplace. It’s a dismal realization. There is even a chapter in the book titled “What would Josh do?”, which encourages women to emulate the tendencies of a successful male in certain situations. This is not ill advice at all. But I hope for a day when distinctly feminine behaviors also connote success, strength and professionalism. Currently, in case of transgressions or slips from ideal work behaviors, women are judged more harshly and often those actions get ascribed to the entire gender (and how women are inferior/unsuitable/out of place) in contrast to men, in which case, they’re only mere transgressions or “he just being a man” (a good thing).

The book evoked in me lot of emotions. I found myself surprised by some insights and facts (from studies), nodding in agreement at many places with the arguments, cringing while recalling my own self-sabotaging behaviors, inspired by the support available and the ray of hope to change the status quo.

Anyone who cares about gender discrimination at workplace should definitely read this book. I think that any workplace that likes to combat sexism can start by

  • Recruiting more women
  • Offering women same pay as men (very important and I think very doable. No, please don’t blame it on negotiation skills)
  • Educating all employees on various contributing and exacerbating tendencies and how to avoid or work around them

Here’s to empowering one and all! 🙂





Blind faith

17 01 2017

Years ago I read a short story by Khushwant Singh titled “Mark of Vishnu”. It’s a story of a devout person Ganga Ram whose blind faith leads to his untimely death. He worships a deadly poisonous black cobra foolishly and practically invites its wrath and thus his instant death. The story might seem dramatic and far-fetched but to me, it’s akin to a parable. It carries a profound moral and conveys a powerful message against superstitions and the need to exercise rational thinking.

Somehow I feel like that Ganga Ram sometimes. Many times. Whenever I’m under-prepared. Whenever I don’t have a plan B. Whenever I rely completely on others’ expertise, kindness or good nature. Sure some of them are calculated risks but still. Ganga Ram’s fate serves as a strong reminder to guard myself from my own foolishness, not to have blind faith in anyone or anything. It might seem like common sense. One may even be appalled that it has to be stated aloud. But one shouldn’t forget – everything is common sense in hindsight.

I feel that the story’s all the more significant for me because faith has always been my default response. It’s effortless. It’s convenient. Unlike doubt and skepticism, which are harder. Nonetheless, Ganga Ram is never too far from my consciousness, ever since I was acquainted with him. I remind myself – No Blind Faith.

I would like to take a moment to appreciate the author, Khushwant Singh, for the no-nonsense genuinity of the story. I would say brilliant piece of lit.





2016 reading

7 01 2017

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It had been a novel reading experience for me in 2016. Steered off my usual choices. Didn’t participate in any book clubs. Read loads of non-fiction. Loved most of them. Figured out that listening to non-fiction is much better than reading it. 😛

Nothing cheers me up like a good thriller. While Cormoron Strike’s new case, or rather mostly JK Rowling’s craftsmanship in Career of the Evil, thrilled me to the core, the fourth in the Millennium series – The Girl in the Spider’s Web, practically saved me from winter blues during a long holiday.

Harper Lee recreated the magic of To Kill a Mocking Bird in her much long awaited work – Go Set a Watchman with her powerful writing. Another gem I just picked from the library shelf is “Buddha in the Attic” by Julie Otsuka, about Japanese immigrants and their mysterious relocation from California during the second world war. Written from the perspective of Japanese immigrant women as a collective, it is a beautiful and deeply affecting depiction of their plight during that time. rice of Salt by Patricia Highsmith had also been a pleasant surprise for me. It’s a passionate love story of two women in love.

Listening to Steve Jobs, as narrated by Dylan Baker, was truly humbling. True that the man was eccentric and notably a jerk, but his ingeniousness, vision, and perseverance are ideals for future innovators. Read three books by Jon Krakauer. His personal account of the Everest mishap is chilling to the core. Into the Wild is a real classic. I was totally impressed by his narration. Such a tragedy. I was noticeably distressed days after I finished the book. The third book is on the rape and justice system in Missoula. Needless to say, it was quite disturbing. One book that triggered a change in my lifestyle is “Fast Food Nation”. I’m now officially averse to fast food.

Elizabeth Kolbert’s Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History that I listened to towards the end of year was truly remarkable. It tells you the story of extinction throughout the history  of the world as known or theorized by man. Mostly, it talks about how humans are the agents of disruption and destruction for the varied species on this planet. It gives us a perspective. It’s a very engaging book and is based on extensive research. I have to particularly note here that the narrator of the audio book Anne Twomey, with her bed time story telling style, did a great job and actually enabled me to finish this book easily and made it more interesting. Kudos to her. Susan Cain’s book on Introverts, Quiet is something that will stay with me forever, precisely because I can relate to it so so much! 🙂

Gollapudi’s Sayamkaalamaindi is a feel good portrayal of Vaishnava tradition and customs set against a backdrop of simplistic Indian village life at least a couple of generations ago. That was a time when the social hierarchy was determined by one’s caste and was accepted by one and all, even the underprivileged, as the only way of life. The reader, as a more liberal being, may cringe at some depictions. But in this novel, the author’s intention didn’t appear to be supportive of it or to make a statement about the caste system in some way. It seemed like a honest portrayal of life with all it’s complications. The story in fact progresses along the inevitable change that happens in the societal norms. The best thing about the book is that it’s a story about good and genuine people. It left me with peace and nostalgic. The writing is excellent and a reminiscent of classic literature and language in its purest form. Must read if you love the language and the culture.





2016 in books (Goodreads)

19 12 2016

 

reading-challenge-2016Goodreads has provided an insightful “My Year in Books” infographic of all the books I read in 2016. I’ve set a goal for myself to finish reading 50 books this year, which really didn’t mean to be a challenge at all because I typically read over 50 books per year “without breaking a sweat” 😛 . But 2016 actually proved to be quite challenging, as “life” took over, leaving little time and energy for indulgence.

I would still do my yearly post on reading with details and visualizations. Stay tuned! Meanwhile, below is what Goodreads has to say:

goodreads-2016