Advice – no advice


“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” E.B.White

It was a typical morning post (forward) on Whatsapp. It was for those above 40 and the way to live life in your 40’s. It exhorted “spend that money, explore the world, don’t slave and save for your children as you may make them parasites”. You get the drift. Reflecting upon these points, closed the message and looked up another one. “Financial planning mistakes in your 40’s” was the title. Chastising the middle aged crowd for dipping into their retirement nest and not planning a legacy for their children so that they can lead start over their peers…I bet you have read similar ones. Question: both are sound advices, but which advice to follow?

After jokes the one thing that social media is flooded with is advice. 8 successful habits of sportsmen, 10 things not to do and 15 things to eat, how to be a millionaire and the likes. There is no subject that is left uncovered- money, health, relationships, parenting etc. Surprisingly most of the advice is contradictory and ever changing like the life above 40 advice/s cited above. Butter and ghee were a no, no but a yes, yes now. How to know what works and what doesn’t?

In 2008 his company invested billions in quadrupling their stake in an energy major. In a few months his company ended up licking massive losses running into several billions. His company then bought $2billion worth bonds in an energy utility company. Now they are worth $878million and in a few months may be worth zero. The investor is Warren Buffet of Berkshire Hathaway. 5 out of 10 investment advices you receive are inspired by Warren Buffet. If what’s good for Buffet is not good for Berkshire, then what’s it worth for you and me. Don’t copy the lifestyle and portfolio of Buffet but try to imbibe his discipline and hard work in your investments. No surprise that Buffett never advises!

Do advisors change their advice? You bet. The best of these turncoats are on the business channels. One day they are out their giving cocksure projections on companies and the market with buy or sell recommendation. Few days later they are back telling you to do the opposite! What has changed, the circumstances! It is as good as looking out of the window and predicting the weather. If they know so much why don’t they go out and earn those billions instead of giving free advice to you? Think.

English language has complicated the plot even more; we got two words ADVISE and ADVICE. First is a verb and second is a noun. In more practical terms, advice is what you get when you ask for a recommendation. Advise is what you get sometimes without even asking (salesman’s advice). (Any English experts can guide and clarify here).

“Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment” advised Polonius to his son Laertes in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet (Act 1, Scene 3). Bard is right once again. Like the advisors on business channels who change their views based on circumstances, we also need to get the right context for your inspiration. If some great man wakes up at 5 am don’t ape him and wake up at 5 am (and go back to sleep at 5.05 am!). Check how and why it is beneficial for him when he wakes up at 5 am and also check when he hits the bed in the night. Also, it is dangerous to follow only one habit of a successful person. Follow few more also and importantly check if those habits suit your work and plans.

What drives us towards seeking this free advice and chasing role models is a psychological trait called Survivorship Bias. Story about a man who came from a small place in rural India who made it big in Bollywood without any godfathers is inspirational. What is not shared is the story of thousands of similar men and women who probably with more talent didn’t make it. All or nothing is a great story when we read about the ‘all’  and is not when you read about ‘nothing’.

Good diet, physical activity, reading, honesty and helping others are the good advice which we all received from our parents and teachers which are good enough to lead a happy life.  The best advice you can get from the inspirational men and women is their dedication, their struggle, their never give up approach and their hard work. If you adapt those attributes, if not successful, it will definitely make you a better human being.




P.S.: One man said, “I get so much advice on Facebook and Whatsapp, but where is the time to implement as I’am always on Facebook and Whatsapp!”

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Crisis of Chrysalis


Childhood shows the man, as morning shows the day- Thomas Hardy

Much has been written – smuttily, commercially, and crassly- on the suicide of Pratyusha Banerjee who captured the hearts of many India as Anandi the child-bride. She was hailed as a child prodigy in the field of acting and a great future was envisioned. Sadly, her life came to an abrupt. RIP Pratyusha.

This blog is not another salacious piece on her life or of her partner or the case. Having seen probably half an episode of the serial starring her (I’m a serial killer!) I lack the emotional connect to the individual. What I wish to reflect upon is the tragedy of child prodigies. Is there is a crisis of chrysalis? Why many a promising bud fails to bloom to be the charming flower?

The child prodigies are gifted with a very high IQ. What they do with that high IQ makes the real difference. Child prodigies excel in their fields and taste success at a very age. However, the fundamental error most commit is (try) being the best among the best and the rest. For all their intelligence, they do not strive to be original!

Who are they creators of new products, ideas or companies? The class toppers? Na. The creators are the ones who want be only. Class toppers make present things better, while the creators create new things. The creators urge to do something different makes them break from the mould and they build something new. Their objective is not to build a better mousetrap; but to build a world without mice. Their world is not made up of triumphing against other hard working students or employees. Their world is a blue ocean, in which they wish to chart their own course and build their own island. If Mark Zuckerberg wanted to top his class in Stanford, he probably could have. But he wanted to be only, which drove him to create Facebook.

The role of parents is very critical in managing child prodigies (or any child). It is not easy to manage fame and money – when they come or go, it is a flood – even for a grown-up. Imagine the stress on a child. It is often noted that parents get greedy of the easy money that their child is earning and quickly convert him or her into a money making machine. Parents end up stealing childhood from the child. It is not a surprise that alcoholism, drugs and psychiatric problems are far too common among successful child artists and sports persons in their teen years. Before writing this piece, read a few articles about Pratyusha. She was just 24 years but has experienced the combined trials and tribulations of 3 or 4 sixty year olds!

Question that faces every parent is this – how to shape the future of my child? The answer to that is a very simple but deep. Every child has only childhood. As an adult we can reconstruct our life many times over. But for a child it is the parents who create/build/manage the childhood and the child cannot create it. What you the parent, want to trade your child’s childhood with – money, fame, glory or failure? A happy child, when he grows up tries to create a happy world. An unhappy child will add to the misery of the world when he grows up.

O Henry’s “The guilty party” is a brilliant short story of a little girl who is dismissed by her father when she approaches him to play with her. She grows up to be a vagabond adult and is killed in a street fight. Her case is put up to God seeking maximum punishment for her bad behaviour. God declares that it is not the girl but her lazy father who is the guilty party. How true.

Now reflect, who is the guilty party in Pratyusha’s case? Her boyfriend(s), media, the other woman or her parents?




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Man vs Machine


“I visualize a time when we will be to robots what dogs are to humans and I’m rooting for the machines” – Claude Shannon

It was a classic the world had awaited. Man was finally up against his creation- the machine. In February of 1997 six chess matches were played between Gary Kasparov, probably the great chess master ever and DeepBlue, the chess playing computer designed by IBM. The score ended 1-1 with four draws.

In March 2016 we had Google’s DeepMind AlphaGo defeat the champion Lee in the abstract board game Go, 4-1. DeepMind and AlphaGo are a preview to the Artificial Intelligence future we can look forward to. Is man finally meeting his match, the machine which he created?

Every day we are bombarded with the amazing skills of modern systems. Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, 3D printing, cloning etc are changing the way we live and enjoy this world. The technology that runs these machines is very high end – deep neural programming, search trees etc. Alphago today can predict 57 of the moves to be played by its opponent!

Humans are about intuition, machines are about ingenuity. The best example of this comes from the first battle between man and machine – DeepBlue vs Kasparov. In the first game on the 44th move DeepBlue made a wrong move which Kasparov quickly capitalized and defeated DeepBlue, a first victory for man over machine. In the next match DeepBlue defeated Kasparov after which Kasparov drew the remaining 4 games. What happened in the first match is the real story.

Computer games like chess are built (written code) using strategies which have been used by many players. In essence, Kasparov was playing the ghosts of few dozen grandmasters when he was up against DeepBlue. What then actually defeated Kasparov? A bug!

The wrong 44th move in the first match was a programming error – a bug! Here’s where we move away from machines. Kasparov was surprised by the silly 44th move but it was always at the back of his mind and spooked him. He didn’t realise that DeepBlue committed a mistake and Kasparov was guarding himself against such surprise moves which affected his natural game. DeepBlue had no such memory hang over and kept playing as if nothing happened. Human intuition carries emotional baggage, while computers/machines have just vanilla ingenuity to work with.

What sets machines apart from us? Sheer calculating power. In the chess game, to calculate 3 forward moves (3 for you and 3 for the opponent) would throw up 4.1 billion options. A computer can calculate that in 20 seconds. A champion like Gary Kasparov would require 43 years, without even taking a bathroom break!

In the future to be built and managed by computers and machines, we are in danger of working and living without emotions. What are humans without emotions, feelings, mistakes and failings? A monkey with a typewriter has one in a million chance of coming up with a Shakespeare’s quotation. That does not make the monkey a Shakespeare, worse it does not make Shakespeare a monkey!

In an Issac Assimov’s futuristic story, a man is caught with a surprising skill. He can add, subtract and multiply without any machines and the authorities wonder what the use of such a skill is!

Human essence is about human existence as much as human existence is about human essence. In the race to build a better machine, we may end up making a poorer version of ourselves. Beware! Lest Claude Shannon’s words come true.




PS: Claude Shannon (RIP genius) who expired few days ago was the first man to visualize computer as a chess player. Back in 1949(!) he published a paper, Programming a Computer to play Chess.

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