The importance of 'Rituals'

Rituals - everyone has them!

Rituals - everyone has them!

"We are what we repeatedly do; excellence, then is not an act but a habit."

The first time I came across this quote was when we were shooting a video for my business school, Management Development Institute, Gurgaon. A few of us were asked to say this aloud and funnily enough, the team which was making this video made us repeat this line quite a few times to get the best shot. I found the quote quite fascinating and it was probably my first exposure to the idea of system-thinking versus goal-thinking.

The first book I read in the ‘self-help’ genre was Rich Dad, Poor Dad. I had read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance earlier though I didn’t consider it a self-help book then. (On that note, the first book that I read which I’d classify under self-help will have to be The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.) Coming back to Rich Dad, Poor Dad – I had picked it up because it had been highly recommended by so many people at work. The one idea that I seem to recall from that book was how a person is the sum total of his/her friends and where/ with whom he spends all his time.

The same idea popped up again when I read about what most sport-champions consider the secret of their success; what the world’s best CEOs consider the small things they do that make the difference; what Scott Adams recommends as life-advice. Was this the Baader-Meinhoff phenomenon at work?

Seth Godin has talked about the secret-handshakes of tribes. When I see religious and cultural rituals, I try to imagine how that particular ritual must have come about. One tends to retro-fit many rituals to some agricultural or ecological context to justify why it was started in the first place. I wonder if they were designed deliberately or evolved over a period of time or were done and followed for generations, without anyone giving it a thought.

An interesting ritual I come across is in the kids’ school. The school usually starts everything with five minutes of meditation and a prayer – kids start their day this way in most schools. The interesting thing is the parent-teacher meetings also start with five minutes of meditation and followed by a Sanskrit spiritual chant which says the Teacher is the representative of God and we all salute the God. Such sessions usually are crib sessions where parents come to the school with a long list of complaints. I feel the five minutes of relaxation and the chanting in praise of the teachers goes a long way in either eliminating most of the unnecessary complaints and definitely reducing the intensity of the complaints.

One habit that we have developed in our team is to ask quiz questions. One thing that binds everyone in our team is that we all love quizzing. So someone volunteers to ask a Question of the Day on our Whatsapp group. We also do a short quiz at the start of every meeting. This is our equivalent of meditation. Trying to answer questions gets us all to be mentally present for the meeting - we all are in the right frame of mind and meetings become a lot more effective!

Rituals, habits, systems are the building blocks for making any sustainable change. Change is happening all the time – sometimes planned and many a time, it is inadvertent.

I’d love to hear your experiences with designing rituals in your life or at work.

Tennis Chronicles: What did I tell my best friend?

There had been a lull for some time since the last time I had written about my Tennis. A book we often recommend is Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath. One of the techniques they talk about while taking decisions for yourself is to answer the question “What would I tell my best friend in this situation?” If you can detach yourself from a situation but also think about it for your best friend, you will care enough. That really increases the chances of taking better decisions. I have been trying to get this balance of dispassionate-ness and ‘caring enough’ in lot of the decisions I have been taking at work and in life.

Coming back to my tennis - I had a feeling that I was just showing up at my tennis class every day and going through whatever was on offer that day – it was not really going through the motions but it felt like that to me because I didn’t have a plan; I felt I was drifting. I decided to take a step back and look at my learning, what could I change and of course, give some rest to my troublesome knee. So I decided to take a break for the month of May.

During my cycling trips every morning, I chanced upon a different tennis academy and decided to play there for a few days to see how it goes. The new place was different in many ways:

  • It’s a hard-court. I had played only on clay courts for one year.
  • It’s much closer to my house. So I could save a lot in transit time.
  • There were three courts as against the four at the previous place.
  • There were fewer people who came to play.

I started with some doubts but decided to give the new place a shot anyways. The first week was horrible – I found it difficult to get used to the pace of the court; I was anyways coming off a month-long break. But I slowly got more comfortable. When our kids came back from their vacation, I convinced them to join me at this new place (leaving all their friends from their older class). Around 2 weeks in, I realized the biggest difference – the coach at the new place has given me ‘technical advice’ on exactly 2 occasions in the last 40 odd days. You might recall the equation I had quoted from The Inner Game of Tennis,

Performance = Potential – Interference

In the book, the author talks about how the ‘coaching’ from the coach becomes an interference for the player because she wants to implement what she has been told – extend your arm, check your grip et al. This new coach plays regularly with us; has been coaching for a few decades. So I’m sure he has a lot to say but his philosophy seems to be to let players develop their own style. He has a slightly different approach with the kids but largely the philosophy seems to be the same.

This works very well for me, personally. I can make my plans for what I want to improve every day. Since there are fewer people, I play more sets instead of going through the standard routine drills that everyone was put through. Fewer people as compared to the earlier place also means that there are fewer people whose tennis skill- level will be rated as high. Yet, my level has definitely gone up because I have been able to make the changes I want to and plan for. The biggest difference is that I feel more in control of my tennis journey and I feel happy about it! For an autodidact like me, this is the perfect scenario. I’ll wait to see how it goes for the kids.

So if I had to report back to my best friend, this is how his advice helped –

  • Found the new courts when I was out cycling -  Increase exposure to new situations, people, to improve chances of serendipity to happen to you
  • Took a break – allowed me to do detached reflection
  • Tried out the new place – experiment before coming to any conclusions
  • Fewer people at the new place – more mind-space and playing-time
  • Under-coaching allowing me to do my own thing.

What advice would you give to your best friend?

5 ridiculously tough ways to make your children fall in love with reading

5 ridiculously tough ways to make your children fall in love with reading

At Choose To Thinq, we are nutty about reading. So we often get asked: “How do I building a reading habit in my child?” 

Based on our experiences as readers, parents, and uplevelers who study habits, change, and innovation, here are five specific ways in which you could influence the creation of such a habit in a child.

Read More

Tired of being forgotten? We'll show you a way to become 'stickier'.

Feeling Forgotten?

The worst fate for people charged with spreading ideas, the likes of which include budding innovators, entrepreneurs, and marketers, is being forgotten. Compare that to a fake news item, an urban legend, a proverb, an election motto, or a major shoe brand's tagline: once they enter your head, they stay there for ever.

Can we ever be as 'sticky' as them?

'Made To Stick', one of our favourite books ever, has teased out the secrets of success behind some of these memorable ideas. The answer, it says, is SUCCES

Keen on knowing what this is? Join us and the Bhau Institute of Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Leadership on Saturday, 13 May 2017, from 5 pm - 7 pm. While we talk about making ideas memorable, Jeet Vijay from Bhau Institute will specifically address how to put these ideas to work in the context of pitching to investors.

Don't miss this chance to uplevel the way you spread a message you care deeply about.

To Join Us

Entry is free. Please RSVP here: http://meetu.ps/e/CN5jP/qsG1H/f 

The seam of the tennis ball, Draupadi's swayamwar and the Universal truth of life

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After my last post on Tennis, I was recommended by at least two people to read The Inner Game of Tennis. When I did a quick Google search, what really intrigued me about it was the fact that this book was used by coaches in different sports like Tennis and hand-egg. Usually, when a book has applicability and relevance in different domains or areas, it means that the book is talking about something more fundamental and higher-level. This book is considered the Bible of tennis coaching and the author, Timothy Gallwey has apparently written more books and is now an acclaimed business coach as well.I bought the book on Kindle immediately and started reading it. The book talked about what I go through on a daily basis – the trouble with concentration, the one great winner that I manage to hit once in a blue moon and call it ‘patchy’ form. The big equation to come out of the book is

Performance = Potential – Interference

Where Interference is the instructions you try to give yourself to hit a shot in a particular way or what the coach is asking you to focus on or what you think the situation demands. If you can minimize the Interference, then the performance can actually be as good as your potential. And it all boils down to focus. So what I've been doing all this while is sledging myself!! The idea is to figure out what works best for you – and this starts with understanding yourself and becoming more self-aware. You try out different approaches without being judgmental about the results and then once you do what's working enough number of times, you get into the groove i.e. you can do it exactly in the same way every time. Thinking complicated skills like walking, writing, driving!  There is always the risk of regressing to old habits because your ego needs the satisfaction of being in control and wants to ‘drive’ you towards great results. And that’s when you need to have practiced ‘how to get your focus back’.

This is a great equation because it’s a very fundamental equation. It’s applicable in every sphere of work and life. All the great saints, teachers, leaders have said something on similar lines – keep things simple; maintain razor-sharp focus and try to achieve the Zen state in whatever you are doing. Whether it is spiritual readings or self-help books or books on leadership/ behavior science or a bootcamp on hypnosis (and I’m speaking from personal experience), the ultimate message that you bring it down to is the same – keep it simple, focus, you have to figure out what works for you on your own and once you find that, rinse and repeat. And it’s always a system! Targets can be deceptively detrimental.

Uplevelling @ Choose To Thinq

This framework is something we follow at work. At Choose To Thinq, we uplevel growth-minded leaders to beat the status quo for themselves and their teams. The nature of problems can be quite varied. We have worked on challenges like –

  • My customers are smart. I can’t be doing the same standard thing to engage with them. What can I do differently?
  • The people coming to this Sales conference have probably got bored of seeing the same kind of demos and presentations. How do I convey my message more convincingly?
  • I want to engage better with this group of employees and develop these channels of communication. Skip-level meetings can’t be the solution!
  • I want to develop a culture of intrapreneurship in my company. How do I do this?

These business problems are from domains as varied as marketing, sales, traditional HR and organization development. The framework that we typically apply is –

  • Work with the leader to help them discover a destination to aim for.
  • Help the leader to creatively engage, persuade and recruit allies and equip them with new knowledge, skills and tools required.
  • Help shape the environment and build habits and culture for the quest to succeed.
  • Help sustain the change.

Some typical attributes of our approach are

  • Keep it simple and maintain focus.
  • Try out different approaches first to figure out what is working in your situation. (There’s no guarantee that what worked in another company similar to yours will work for you)
  • Something not working the way you wanted it to is part of the process.
  • Observe what’s working and amplify it.

We came up with this approach based on multiple philosophies and frameworks like design thinking, lean startup, systems thinking, B J Fogg's behavior design and books like Influence, Switch, Decisive, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Flow, The Power of Habit etc. Above all, we use a lot of common sense instead of being dogmatic about any one framework/philosophy. It’s our own version of Din-i-Ilahi, the religion that Akbar founded based on the best things from different religions.

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It all boils down to the same universal truth –

  • Keep it simple.
  • Focus.
  • Figure out what works for yourself – it could be very different from the ‘recommended best practices’.
  • Rinse, repeat to make a system out of it.

A simple trick Timothy Gallwey talks about for maintaining focus is to try and watch the seams of the ball and nothing else. Then the ball seems bigger and it even slows down for you to play your shots at ease. How different is it from Arjuna hitting the eye of the fish in the swayamwar to win Draupadi's hand in marriage?

Harish is co-founder, Choose To Thinq and Thinq2Win

"Contagious" - CTQ Book of the Month - March 2017

Contagious is a book that studies the phenomenon of word of mouth, virality, and what is it that makes people talk about a book, an idea, an event, or a person. Very useful for marketers, start-ups, intrapreneurs, and anyone who is trying to introduce something new. Here's our quick infographic summary of the 6 key conclusions of the book. This is also the visual for March on our CTQ 2017 Books Calendar.

(BTW, we are now offering a Financial Year version of the 2017 Books Calendar - it spans April 2017-March 2018 and is a great learning gift for your clients and employees for the next financial year.)

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The Curious Case of... Dharmendra

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curious cases

(All of us are born curious. Some of us actively practice it, irrespective of age. Our Curious Cases series gives you a glimpse into the minds of such curious folk. May they rub off you the right way!)

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Photo:Mohnish, Man's World

Name Dharmendra

Location Bangalore

What I do Running Coach

On the Curiosity scale, I am... Super Curious

What I prefer to consume (in descending order of preference): Books Movies

Number of books and movies I get through in a year 25-35 books. Perhaps less than half that no. in movies.

One book I'd recommend to a friend / colleague: Thinking Fast Thinking Slow

My best source for book / movie / website recommendations: Friends

One movie / show I've loved that hardly anyone else has watchedThe Man from Earth

One place on Earth that I am very curious about:Kenya

Website(s) that I get a lot of useful info from:www.letsrun.com

One topic I am super-opinionated about: The older I get, the less attached I am to any particular viewpoint.

People come to me to find out what I think about these topics: Running, General Fitness

The strangest food item I have eaten Wasabi Sauce

If I could spend a day in the mind, body, and shoes of a person, it would be...Sammy Wanjiru on the day he won the Chicago Marathon in 2010.

One interesting / fun fact I recently learnt: It isn't uncommon for elite rowers to pass out during competition!

I stay up-to-date by doing this... Visiting running related websites almost daily and reading almost daily.

One interesting/fun fact about myself I started running only at the age of 22 and it is now the basis for my living.

I express my curiosity by doing these things: Trying out new stuff often. I am a sucker for novelty.

The one thing I am very interested in Personal Improvement

A habit or skill I'd love to acquire: Rowing

A movie or TV show that taught me something new Chariots of Fire

If there was one mystery I'd like to solve, it would be What exactly happened on Capt. Mallory's expedition to Everest in 1924?

I would love to do this at least once Row along the Oxford Cambridge Boat Race route.

People I would like to ask all these same questions to: Arun Simha

Curiosity is important to my work because... There are so many different ways to get better as a runner. I started out training the old school way (and continue to do so, till date). But I have learnt with time, that not every one responds to the same stimulus in the same way. So it important to be aware of alternatives.

Someone I know who asks a lot of questions My nephew

My curiosity tip "Try and read everyday."

Where you can be found online dhammo.blogspot.comwww.drava.in

More Curious Cases here!

Tennis Chronicles - the Background

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Our kids started going for tennis coaching last year. I used to look at others and have a comment and an approving look (all to myself) about their technique – all based on more than 30 years of watching tennis on TV. One day when I was watching some of the new students, the coach called me and asked why don’t I join the class? I initially resisted because I couldn’t  be taking up something new at the age of 36, could I? I was also worried if I’d be able to control myself if I actually start playing a sport that I have loved for so many years – would my work suffer? But I decided to allow myself to be seduced and I fell for tennis, hook, line and sinker. It became such an integral part of my life that I just had to go to the tennis courts at least for an hour every day – irrespective of the weather, work or a bad knee.

I also started looking at tennis as an experiment in self-learning and deliberate practice. I’d set small targets for myself before going to the class and see if I’d be able to execute my plans. It was now a game within game and my sense of enjoyment actually doubled. I must have missed more targets I have set for myself than met them. The other outdoor sport that I have played with so much passion is cricket. I once practiced alone for 50 days, just trying to get my yorker right. I am capable of such single minded determination and believe that I can crack a complex problem by dividing into small parts that I can ace this way and then it’s just a question of putting it all together.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to use this approach fully in my tennis practice yet as I end up playing with someone else. Finding a partner who is at the right level has been a challenge – I need the high of beating someone who on his/her day could have beaten me but I also don’t want to battle it out with the more superior players because I theoretically know what I should be doing but clearly, my skill is nowhere near what I’d recommend to a Roger Federer in a blog post (like this). This is very similar to the concept of flow where you have to get the levels of difficulty and the skill just right.

It is fun to introspect on how I play and analyse how I did. Unlike the serve, most other aspects need another player on the other side of the net. I end up losing my rhythm very badly when I end up playing against someone who doesn’t hit it hard enough or plays as if he’s playing table tennis (yes, I had two such players in my batch today!). And once I lose my rhythm, it takes either a week or 30 minutes of practice with the head coach to get back to square 1.

I know I’ll never be playing tennis at the highest level. In fact, looking at the way the sport is played at the junior level (where well-built hunks try to pass off as under-12 participants or a Nike-cap wearing boy calls a shot out on his side simply because he knows there’s no referee around and he can speak in English as against his opponent), I’d not have lasted too long anyways. Yet, seeing some of the older people play at the academy, I feel this could well be the type of physical activity that I could continue till my body allows.

Scott Adams, in his book “How to fail at almost everything and still win big” recommends picking up a daily habit like tennis (where you can see daily improvement) as the key to happiness. Well, the habit’s been picked up. The book also talks about self hypnosis and programming your mind. I did a self-hypnosis bootcamp last year. Now I just need to figure out how not to be reminded of John McEnroe’s joke about Ramesh Krishnan’s 10 kmph serve every time I face a newbie-pretending-to-be-an-expert (like me) and focus only on my game and my game within game. I’ll try to post regularly about my Tennis chronicles – you might be able to use something from here in other pursuits of your life.

Harish is co-founder, Choose To Thinq and Thinq2Win

Incite 2016

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At Choose To Thinq, we put "learning from smart people" at the core of what we do. 2016 was, by all standards, a pretty significant year in many domains, like it was for us as individuals and as a company. To make sure we squeezed out every ounce of "learning juice" from the year, we decided to bring together some of the smartest people we know. Not an 'offsite', but something actually valuable ;-).

So Saturday, 17 Dec. 18 people. 7 hours.

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"When I was 17..."

We did two sets of introductions: one, the boring, LinkedIn headline, introductions. Then the real ones: before the day of Incite, we'd asked everyone to tell us something interesting they had done when they were 17. These were read out without revealing the matching identity. People were asked to guess which person matched which item.

(Notable achievements and non-achievements ranged from "being a 'specimen' in a dental exam', 'illegally crossing over to Pakistan', 'failing an exam', 'creating a hit play', 'learning English almost overnight', and 'winning a trophy and sash by Gaay Chaap Zarda').

"What I learned this year"

Through the course of the day, several people spoke about something they learned about in 2016. (Some just came up to confess they didn't think they learned anything. Which was fine.)

Some examples:

Prajakta Panshikar-Divekar spoke about her efforts and travels to understand the state of the planet, and why it scares her. Niranjan Pedanekar spoke about taking a play to the National School of Drama, despite (or because?) being an 'amateur'. Bhooshan Shukla mentioned this was a year of 'contraction', trying to reduce things to those he could have real impact on. Navin Kabra talked about learning about 'persuasion' in the Trump era.

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"What CTQ learned this year"

Contributed by each member of Choose To Thinq based on what they had read or learned about in 2016, this was a conversation with prompts in the forms of quiz questions + stories from the year. Here are some highlights:

"AI, AI, Captain"

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2016 was a year that saw an assault (or, depending on how you see it, revelations) by AI in various fields. AI programs produced art, composed music, wrote sonnets, beat the pants off board game champs, scared middle managers, and took off in cars and trucks.

In this afternoon session, we took a quick tour of the history of AI and how we got here. In the process, we hazarded guesses on what this all meant for us (and humanity).

You might want to read up on:

"'Being Human' a.k.a Surviving AI"

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So if AI is taking over the world (in Niranjan's words: "this time it's for real"), what should we do? A bunch of questions based on what some people have recommended that humans focus on.

Read on:

  • Future Work Skills 2020 published by the Institute for the Future for the University of Phoenix Research Institute (PDF link)
  • Scott Adams on the 13 skills every adult should acquire a working knowledge of
  • Leo Babuata of Zen habits about The 9 essential skills kids should learn

"2017 Crazedictions"

Enough of 2016. ('Out, damned spot, out'?). In our last Incite session, we fast-forwarded to Dec 2017.  It's Incite 2017 and we are talking about the crazy year that was 2017. We asked questions on 'facts of 2017'. Examples:

  • This was only the third such instance in US political history. It unsuccessfully happened in 1868 and then in 1998. What? (Ans: Impeachment of a US President)
  • Sir Alex Ferguson is in charge of Home. J K Rowling is in charge of Education. Sean Connery is in charge of Defence. What happened? (Ans: can you guess? tell us in the comments!)
  • Not Amitabh, but Rajinikanth became 'this' in July 2017 (Ans: President of India!)
  • This director released a film called 'Money' in 2017, based on the 2016 demonetization. Who? (Ans: your guess in the comments!)
  • As part of the Smart City initiative, the Mayor of Pune inked a sister city pact with Pontevedra, a Spanish city. The sister city pact forced a decision that Spanish PM Rajoy (also from Pontevedra) is enacting in Spain to be implemented in Pune as well. Most commercial establishments were not impacted by it at all but one of the most iconic establishments of Pune decided to shut down operations because they couldn't imagine a world where they will have to do this. What is the change that Rajoy is trying to bring in Spain? (Ans: Doing away with afternoon siesta time for establishments. Chitale Bandhu Mithaiwale shut down operations - 'hum mar sakte hain par jhuk nahin sakte!')

More Reading

(Books, articles, and people: based on recommendations from participants during Incite 2016)

The Choose To Thinq 2017 Calendar

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Your desk could teach you a thing or two.

If it's got our Calendar on it, any desk or wall automatically becomes the smartest thing in your room. Besides you, of course!

At Choose To Thinq, one of the things we do well is to help people and organisations apply insights from great books. One way we make these learnings accessible and convenient is via our annual calendar.

Each page is an actionable summary of a terrific book. In addition, we add 'prompts' to each Sunday to help you apply insights from them into your daily life, aiding habit formation and increased productivity. (Think of it as a life coach,only it doesn’t need your credit card details and is much less annoying!)

Like our 2016 edition, the 2017 edition has insights across topics such as innovation, creativity, and personal growth.

The 11 books featured in the 2017 edition (the 12th page has a little surprise for you!) are:

  • The Ten Faces of Innovation
  • Influence
  • Contagious
  • Decisive
  • Mindset
  • Grit
  • Start With Why
  • Triggers
  • Reinventing Organisations
  • Brain Rules
  • Creativity Inc.

The Retro Version

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Calendars may come and go, but great books are timeless. If you'd like to also get hold of our book summaries from last year (but with this year's dates!), get the 2017 Retro edition which covers:

  • Thinking, Fast and Slow
  • Made to Stick
  • The Power of Habit
  • Drive
  • The Innovator's DNA
  • Switch
  • The Checklist Manifesto
  • The Virgin Way
  • The One Thing
  • Lean In
  • Flow

Have a wonderful and smart 2017!