Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Into The Uncharted Territory

Six degrees of separation: far or near?

This post is a tribute to a person who had recently advised me not to think or write too abstract and be somewhere in between the continuum that has at its one end very factual matter and at its other end highly abstract one. So, before I once again start drifting towards the abstract, I will straightaway come to the point. I want to talk about a unique insight that I got about Stanford, especially during the last couple of months. Of course, many people have already blogged and written about legendary professors, path-breaking classes, educational flexibility, and Stanford’s unique contribution in developing and disseminating the discipline of Organizational Behavior. They are of course all true.  The truth that I discovered in the past few months is that the Stanford network machine is very effective.  

I had been trying to build a team around an idea, but I was not quite sure how to assemble an equally passionate team around it. Talking to my first degree network was not enough. Quite surprisingly, often, I found willing and passionate partners who were at a four or five degree of separation away from me. And I am not even talking about finding people and convincing them. I am talking about people who want to do similar thing and relate to your vision, easily. They are also willing to collaborate with you. They don’t just collaborate but also complement you. It seems that many people are working here on the similar idea at the same time and are looking for complementing partners. They are more often, but not always, at a four or five or may be six, seven, or eight degree of separation away from you. So, no idea is preposterous even if it looks like nobody is giving it a damn. It just means that the right person is over there five or six degree of separation away from you.

Beyond my comfort zone

I had never thought I would sit among a bunch of law students studying the role of General Counsel in an American Firm. But, this quarter, I am doing exactly the same. I gave a break to all the entrepreneurial classes at the Graduate School of Business and took a class in the Law school. The Professor who teaches this class was the General Counsel at Apple Inc. during 2007-2009 and is currently a strategic advisor to Institutional Venture Partners. Every week he brings an eclectic mix of guests from corporate as well as education sector. The composition of the class is well balanced. Almost half of the class is from the business school and the other half from the law school. I, initially, didn't like the class but after a few sessions, I started liking it. The role of a GC is very interesting and challenging. He or she has to strike a delicate balance between his responsibilities of maintaining the legal compliance and preserving the management interests because many times these two come against each other in an organization.

Another class in my uncharted territory list is a class on innovation in healthcare. The composition of the class is as diverse as it can get. It has students from almost every discipline both form undergraduate and graduate degree courses. Each session explores one aspect of the healthcare industry in the US and has guests from healthcare firms visiting almost every class. And the unique teaching style of the Professor brings up each theme of the session quite well. Now, I have a fairly good understanding why healthcare is such a talked about subject in the US. What makes its healthcare system unique in the world, different from even European healthcare systems even though the per capita spending on healthcare in the US is highest in the world? And, it is still behind European countries in terms of healthcare outcomes?

Exciting times to come  

I am more comfortable now with words like “hackathon” and “demo day”. Things are getting more and more exciting. Many interesting projects are lined-up. The only regret I have is not getting selected for LOWKeynotes, a unique endeavor of GSB, which provides participants a TED like platform for talks on various topics. But, I am an OptiMystique and every setback gives me an opportunity to think something new. So, from my next post onward,  I will include a video blog as well in my posts. I hope it satisfies me.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Around The World

Tight Rope Walking

Whether it was an opportunity or an imperative, I didn't know at that time, but in retrospect I believe now that it was greatly thrilling. Nigeria doesn't spring pretty images in many people’s mind, but when there aren't many options at one’s disposal; listening to one’s gut feeling is the only option available. Little did I know that the two and half years I spent in Nigeria would become one of the best experiences of my life?

Amid inhibited freedom and unbridled luxury, each day was a unique experience. The safety protocols written in everybody’s eyes with a dash of anecdotal evidences would be enough to give you goose bumps. Still, there was something which was uniquely and chillingly interesting. The Nigerian priest in a Hindu temple, the magic of money in everyday life, the one and only train line, the chauffeur driven car, the politician with a private jet – this world was like nowhere else. The spirit would make you running. In return the experience teaches you life’s many lessons that you cannot learn anywhere else. There is happiness in every situation; you just need to keep working towards that. You will definitely reach there.

Before Nigeria experience, I was a novice funambulist – a tight rope walker in the making. The Nigeria experience made me a seasoned funambulist. Life for me there was truly a tight rope walking - high on excitement, full of surprises but never a smooth walk.

The Dragon Project

In the fall quarter, I had to make a prototype for a design project on "reinventing meetings". The algorithm of the prototype looked like this:

The prototype development process - the algorithm on a piece of paper
The algorithm

I used this algorithm, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, a Screen Recorder and 4 hours, to create the prototype. Totally loved it.

African Library Project

I am very excited to become this quarter a board member of African Library Project, a non-profit organization in the valley. This non-profit organization established  children libraries in African countries.

It coordinates book drive in the US and partners with African schools and villages to start small libraries.

Before I go to sleep, can't resist mentioning that

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And Miles to go before I sleep,
And Miles to go before I sleep. 

The promises I have made to myself....

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Anti-social Network

And sure there is music even in the beauty, and the silent note which Cupid strikes, far sweeter than the sound of an instrument; for there is music wherever there is harmony, order, or proportion; and thus far we may maintain the music of the spheres. 

-Sir Thomas Browne

The Pied Piper is back, traversing the history of time, space and imagination, only to blow out of their feet the generation congregated at this intellectually fertile, lush, verdant and salubrious piece of land with his magic. This time, he will obliterate fences created to immure human spirit, bind together souls separated by social norms, and defy order meant to mollify the polite. He is creating the anti-social network, with a dash of technology and lots of music.

Dr. Ge, the co-founder of Smule, is an extra-ordinary inventor. Together with his co-founder CEO, Jeff Smith, he is giving a new meaning to the definition of a musical instrument. How true his thinking is. What a piece of instrument made of wood, metal and plastic mean to a person who cannot churn masterpieces out of it? We define it. It’s not the other way round. Hidden in this thought is a great opportunity. It’s a great learning. It’s so powerful and universal.

There is no evil which cannot be overpowered. There is no wound which cannot be healed. There is no defeat which cannot be undone. They all seem so intimidating because we don’t know how to play with them. We don’t know how to play them. Perhaps, we fail to churn masterpieces out of them, so they seem so overwhelming. If only had we thought of the truth that we define them, we would be much more at peace. It’s not the other way round. Our thought is the musical instrument. Our spirit is the musical instrument. Our soul is the musical instrument. What if we created the magical tune out of all the evil, sorrow and defeat that we deal with? What if we converted all the negativity that we have inside us into the funk? What if we turned our blues into the jazz?

The nerds who will create this anti-social network of soul musicians are no ordinary spirits. They won’t turn their heads aside at the sight of needy, miser, loner, clumsy, unsophisticated. Don’t expect this music from those who can create only the inner circle of heartless cacophony not the outer sphere of captivating melodies. They don’t frown at the madness; they don’t scowl at the disorder. They embrace unrefined, na├»ve and unpolished. They don’t find solace in the uncouth earthiness of their opposite. They provide them rhythm, harmony and tranquility to create resonance. They don’t ride freely on the unctuous. They ride along the undexterous.      

The tinkers have to work hard at it; they need to. It isn't an easy task. If the new order has to be created and the old one to be annihilated, we need a leap of faith, belief, and doctrine. Let the suave create the social network. I am game for the anti-social network.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

All about fantasy

The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing. 


Since my last blog post, I have received many words of praise from people around me. I am touched, and humbled, and want to thank each one of you for your encouraging words. It’s my responsibility that I delight you with my writing, should you choose to spend your valuable time reading my blog. I assure.  

So many things have happened in the last ten days. I mean, of course, the program was very fast paced in the first place, but the diversity of events that unfolded and the variety of people I met over the past few days were absolutely revealing for me. Techcrunch disrupt, class elections, microeconomics exam, Google visit, taking a nap in the afternoon. One thing which was common to all of these events (ok, most of these events, if not all) was that there was one Indian at the helm in each of these events. Well, I am not being parochial, just reiterating the fact, in case somebody missed it.

Let me talk about Techcrunch first. Was it the mother of all start up events or the mecca of technology geeks or the most awaited (officially speaking, the most anticipated) tech event of the year, I don’t know. What I do know and remember very vividly is that there is a company called The Honest Company started by Jessica Alba. Seeing her in the physical world was, indeed, a great feeling. Behind the veneer of an innocuously sounding company name, there is a very strong underlying problem that her company is seeking to address. I sincerely request everybody to buy shares of her company, and I offer my free advice to the investment club (I assume, the investment club has deputed somebody to read my blog) to invest in this company whenever it goes public. All the luminaries of tech world were there - Mark Zuckerberg, Vinod Khosla, Michael Arrington, Marissa Mayer, Amit Kandpal, Sumit Verma and Rohit Beri. I am sure my readers are sufficiently informed and don’t need any background information on these stalwarts. These shining stars provided insights which will become fad in the near future. Mr. Zuckerberg said his improvisation skill is unparalleled. Launch a product, see user reaction, take it back, if criticized, and launch another version in another avatar. Please mind that the previous statement is my own interpretation. Nevertheless, I am safe as long as my reach is meager, and it is, for there is near zero probability that somebody from Facebook likes my blog. Mr. Khosla was in his usual self, on a mission to democratize technology. Last time, I heard him talking about the promises of pure science and how he was very bullish on a company based on a novel optical technology. This time he talked about promises of cleantech, and novel food technology that is attempting to create an artificial beef. But, he also disapproved the hype surrounding some of the well-known incubators, cautioning that startups are prone to get distracted by their pampering. Crave for wisdom, not money was his advice. “My job is to help startups recruit right people and build great team”. Well said, Sir. Michael Arrington cracked jokes on Mr. Zuckerberg’s fortune and Ms. Mayer’s pregnancy. Ms. Mayer’s asked one of the finalist teams, how it is planning to reach the emerging markets. But, most importantly, the other three dignitaries spent some quality time pondering over the past, present and future of technology as well as on their own lives while also attending the after party on the last day of the event. Please keep in mind that attending after party was the most critical of the tasks. Mr. Kandpal was, well, no points for guessing it, very bullish on Enterprise Software but in the same breath didn’t stop cautioning that it was the least sexier one as well. Mr. Verma (who the hell is this?) re-emphasized that he was technology agnostic and that he would focus more on addressing the customer pain point, if there is a critical one, without bothering about the technology it belongs to. Wow, what a thought Mr. Verma, who the hell is this. Mr. Beri, explained the past, explained the present and explained the future of technology.

The class elections went on predicted lines - majority of nominations were taken back at the last moment, Colin became the President and Sten the GSB reporter, and I lost the social innovation chair. And, visiting Google this afternoon fulfilled one of my foremost fantasies. I will talk about my other fantasies some other time!

Amit Kandpal, Rohit Beri, Sten and Colin are my esteemed, lovable and extremely accomplished classmates.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

First Thing First

When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and Hang on.
-Thomas Jefferson

I like playing; I play with words. They aren’t inanimate abstractions. They have flesh and blood. They are shaped by the nature around them. Some of them are gaudy, garish, tawdry, loud, garrulous; others bland, murky, mundane, subtle, soothing. Some live fanatically by your side, no matter what. They do Brownian motion in my head, random, straight, innocuous changing direction only when hit by the enclosed wall. I wanted to apply a field force to give them a direction. I have to say this. Starting my blog and writing it regularly was one of my objectives of coming to Stanford, for the simple reason that, I thought, time would be very ripe to do so. I have joined a full time management program which is giving me umpteen amount of opportunity for self-reflection. The urge to express my feelings about life, family, career, politics, education, creativity, poverty, entrepreneurship, and so on had become irrepressible. 

I sincerely started to think about my blog title and after stirring my creative juices some more, came up with the word "OptiMystique". I am an optimistic - a true blue on that. There is no doubt about this in my mind. My subsequent posts will corroborate this fact even more. For now, I will dwell a bit more on the unusual but appropriate title. There is something about my facade which is enigmatic. Over the years, this facade has been gaining life. Like a strange creature, of a movie, dormant in the beginning but gaining life gradually only to grow ferociously difficult to handle. The mystique in my optimism represents everything that I am not, at least I want to believe so, and still it is my integral self. I have no control on it, there never was. It's like a child disavowed and left to flourish on the perils of a thousand forces of nature. It's not under my control, it doesn't even have my consent to grow on me, still it shapes consequentially, if not considerably, my electric field or magnetic field or whatever field human being exudes. That's why, I am an OptiMystique. Selecting a title that reflects, in a way, who I am, and at the same time creates some literary effects too would be a good idea, I believe.

Enough for the ground work. The mission that I am embarking upon, I hope to continue for a long time with the desire of touching upon matters of mind and heart, love and hate, passion and pleasure, price and prejudice, spirituality and earthiness, hope and despair, entrepreneurship and servility. This is the beginning of a wonderful journey. Everyone is invited. You would be pleasantly surprised, if you become part of my voyage, I promise. After all, I am an OptiMystique.