Insatiable Curiosity on Celebrity

This speech (most of its content) was adapted for the toastmasters to be delivered on 25th April 2014 from Alain de Botton’s ‘The News: A User Manual’.

The Speech

American Idol’s celebrity judge Simon Cowell, aged 54 and his partner Lauren Silverman, aged 36 take their little son Eric Cowell out to first taste of Easter Sunday to a local restaurant in Beverly Hills!

Guess what? This is flash news in the leading newspaper daily mail in United Kingdom! Perhaps here we might be following the K-Pop and J-pop celebrities!

The fundamental question is: Will our paparazzi thirst be ever quenched? Or is it a paid celebrity news to make them even more popular? Either way we’re at loss. What is the anti-dote?

District Officers, Fellow Toastmasters, and Distinguished guests

[1-min]

The news constantly introduces us to a parade of extraordinary men & women – those who makes us laugh, those who started revolutionary businesses and those whose faces are stunningly beautiful. Their achievements, personalities and looks excites us than ever before.

Why we have this mindless curiosity? Why fixate on the celebrity rather than on the accomplishment? This is a pity and indeed a problem too! Can admiration lead anywhere worthwhile? Is there anything substantial or important to be gained from revering others?

The impulse to admire is ineradicable & important feature of our psyches. Ignoring or condemning it won’t kill it off. If forced underground, it will rear its head again. Rather than suppressing our love of celebrity, we ought to channel it in an optimally intelligent and fruitful direction.

[2.5 min]

We can take inspiration from philosophy & Athenian Greek approaches to celebrity – which is a commitment to the idea of self-improvement. Religious philosophy advices us that at problematic moments in our lives, we ought to ask what a given saint would do in our place? During a domestic argument, we should, for example, think of the calm and forgiving nature of Saint Gengulphus of Burgundy, the patron saint of difficult marriages. Or equally when facing professional humiliation, we might regain our composure by summoning an image of the un-paranoid and gentle saint of Brigitta of Sweden, the patron saint of failures.

[3.5 min]

Now the question is how do we negotiate modern celebrity? Keeping those saints in mind, we should locate those celebrities who can best function as guides to our virtues we need to bolster in ourselves, perhaps bravery or playfulness, wisdom or creativity, confidence or forgiveness. Out of the hundreds of celebrities that news introduces us to, we should pick the genuine worth whose attitudes and achievements can inspire us to lead a more successful and contented lives.

In the ideal news service of future, every celebrity story would at heart be a piece of education, an invitation to learn from an admirable person on how to become slightly better version of ourselves.

[5 min]

If I draw a parallel to toastmasters, our magazine, which may not have celebrities but have stories from common people like us to draw tremendous inspiration and hence improve our speaking skills than ever before.

Back to TME

After delivering I find it too bookish and have to polish it to a more conversational tone with humor and make it simpler! Hope I can take my own advice next time.

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An Introspection Causative of Anger

Anger is perhaps an acronym for Atrocious Negative Gesticulatory Emotions Recurring. In anger, man’s entropy peaks out bursting waves of negative energy in all planes – physical, psychic and auric, piercing the surroundings near or far. This energy wreaks havoc and takes its toll, first and foremost the source and then the receiver. The irony is, receiver perceives and picks this negative avalanche first to summon all he could to deflect, dispose, smoothen and endure it. Since he has acted on it quickly and used all possible ways to manage it, he is devoid of long term repercussions. On the contrary, the originator even though being the source whose nerves overworked to unleash this force gets weakened with wear and tear not immediately, but it keeps accruing until yields at a point where its weight finally tears the foundation. Hence most of the anger-handicapped have nerve related debilitations or associated complications in due course of life.

There can be no man on earth ever not being angry. But the level of anger makes the difference of how you’ll be perceived by society. Anger has solicited extensive treatment from religious to self-help experts since day immemorial. But handling it is an education in progress for every man. In our lifetime, everyone has opportunity to practice it to lessen it and in rare cases totally eliminate it.

Anger happens due to one or all of below:

  • disregard expectations
  • crossover permissibility
  • breach agreements
  • perform unacceptably
  • unmindful or external/unknown causations

In domestic argument, you should restrain until heat subsides, if not your point dissipates in heat – delay is art and science that has to be practiced at all times. Another important mistake in arguments is whatever said can never be retracted, and due to this kingdoms, fiefdoms, families and corporations have perished simply as one carries grudge of hurtful words uttered. Words have the ultimate power than deeds, as our internal words drives us outwardly so does outwardly words we hear (to internalize it) will drive our reactionary response. As we draw our response to words and tones, so does our counterparts, hence beware of its positive and detrimental effects.

In professional situation, it has an hierarchical angle, use with care when applied, to be taken with caution from higher authority and resisted deftly from lower up and in any case not losing composure or calm. This indicates your stealth strength and exposure quotient and hence the inherent weakens of your foundation. The practice to tackle anger and not being angry yourself becomes clear when your conviction and drive are in synch with the purpose of your individuality and institution you serve.

But before anger being used as a response, we should endeavor to exhaust all possible avenues to rectify the situation before which anger should be used a ‘snake hisses’ to ward of threat and to retain its prominence without venom being spilled, so should the anger be, a show of unpleasantness more subtly only for the breaches and not on the individuals. All should earnestly practice to master it slowly but surely – if we need to transcend anger altogether. Magnanimity, resourcefulness, compassion combined with yoga and breathing exercises based on foundations of rationality and spirituality can shape every individual and community he belongs to be full of tolerance and equity.

Tibetan Views on Dying

I was fascinated to read the steps that descends on us prior to our annihilation – reaching nothingness after a finite time in this world from the book ‘Kindness, Clarity & Insight’ – by Dalai Lama:

The 4 attributes of sufferings are impermanence, suffering, emptiness and selflessness. Within impermanence there are 2 – coarse and subtle impermanence. The former in the case of people, is the person’s death. Preparing for death fully makes it mindful and perhaps peaceful as much as possible.

Since mind at the time of dying is proximate cause of the continuation in to the next lifetime, its important to use the mind near the time of death in practice. No matter what has happened either good or bad in this lifetime, what happens right around the death is particularly powerful. Therefore its important to learn about the process of dying and prepare for it.

Conditions for Dying:

  1. Life span exhausted
  2. Merit has been consumed
  3. Accident – abrupt ending, e.g. killing yourself in highway

Indications for Dying & Type of rebirth:

  1. Warmth begins to gather or withdraw from the upper part of the body
  2. Withdraws 1st from the bottom part of the body. Best being latter, warmth gathering from bottom up

While dying various appearances, pleasant and unpleasant, dawn to mind.
Types of Death are:

  1. Peaceful
  2. With full of fright

In Stages of Dying, 25 factors are said to dissolve. These are called 25 gross objects:

  1. 5 Aggregates: forms, feelings, discriminations, compositional factors and consciousness
  2. 4 Constituents: Elements of earth, water, fire and wind
  3. 6 sources: Eye, Ear, Nose, Tongue, Body and Mental Senses
  4. 5 Objects: visible forms, sounds, odors, tastes, and touches
  5. 5 ordinary wisdoms: basic mirror-like wisdom, equality, analysis, achieving activities and nature of phenomena

During the actual process of dying, these factors dissolve in stages and to occur gradually the constituents of the dying person must not be overly consumed by disease and he must not die in accident, if not they dawn on them abruptly as in accident.

Process of Dying

  1. Dissolution of earth in water constituent: Your limbs become more thinner, more frail and the freshness of your body deteriorates. Body sinks and eyesight becomes unclear. You may see a mirage or a visionary sense of smoke
  2. With water constituent weaning, fire manifests: Aggregate of feelings dissolve and you may see an appearance of smoke
  3. Wind constituent manifests: Aggregate of discriminations dissolve. Your sense of heat diminishes, the heat of your body having become withdrawn; in terms of your own thought, your memory of the affairs of close persons deteriorates. As an internal sign, you have a sense of an appearance  if fireflies or scattering sparks
  4. Wind constituent Acts further: Aggregate of compositional factors dissolve. You have as sense of burning reddish glow from a flame. Now Heart has stopped pumping, lungs stopped breathing. Sense consciousness disappeared now but mental consciousness remains.
  5. With bases of coarse sense consciousness having deteriorated, there still remains levels of grossness and subtlety within the minds which follow as 80 conceptual thoughts start to dissolve in 3 distinct ways: a white appearance dawns, followed by vivid red and finally a near black – signaling the clear light of death, actual death.

How to Die

During these phases of dissolution, it’s important to be aware. The more, the better to remember your previous births.

If you well practiced your mind, you can remain in the state of death when clear light dawns within maintaining full awareness and remain as long as you want and the corpse may not smell or decay. At the time of the mind of black near-attainment, the intermediate state begins, you may be reborn in a formless realm or take a rebirth in a mother’s womb.

Thus if a dying person is familiar with the texts on the process if death, it is helpful to use them. Generally speaking, when a person is dying, it is important that he or she leave in a peaceful manner. One should not generate excitement or nervousness in a dying person. One should not act such a way as to stir up the person; also from the viewpoint if the person who is dying, it is necessary to have clear thought.

 

The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin

Gordon S Wood has dissected the myth behind Ben and took us through a fact finding mission on real happenings behind the 18th century ‘tour de force’ as we assume Ben to be of such but in reality it was different. But time assuages and upends perceptions and you need a literary ‘tour de force’ to imprint your legacy – which I think Ben certainly mastered and left a tome of works and ensured to become an indelible phenomenon in pages of history.

What I’m so impressed is the litany of self-help writings with down-to-earth advice that makes it must read – still relevant now after 3 centuries and will continue for centuries to come. A quintessential American at core, industrious, frugal, ambitious, shrewd and smart (euphemistically says too business-like). Being an octogenarian in 18th century is a feat and with a propensity to do good to fellow citizens is an opportunity few seize and serve well – perhaps to the likes of Bill Gates if you need a contemporary comparison – a business-man turned philanthropist. Not sure whether Ben amassed so much wealth as Bill now but is book may discourage such view given the level of success and influence Ben held during his lifetime than posthumously.

Perhaps Ben thirst may be quenched by reading his works published under:

  1. Papers of Franklin
  2. Franklin: Writings
  3. The Way to Wealth and Autobiography

Everything Store–Jeff Bezos

Some tidbits from this book to keep chewing as you grow your company:

Naming a company:
Jeff’s first URL registered was Relentless.com which will still take you to Amazon.com website. He hit the name Amazon after poring over dictionary for ‘A’ names and ended up with Amazon – the earth’s longest river – no wonder we have the earth’s biggest virtual store now.

Startup Tryst:
Every startup has to go through a “betrayal of trust” between people who have started the company together. Kaphan, the introverted founder programmer, has to go through the pain when Amazon grew bigger – he has to be jettisoned as the jet accelerated and you need more deft and politically savvy people to run the jet with more people, fuel and drive

Hiring:
How does an interviewee get to join a historic company:

  • After a Harvard lecture, Bezos was given a ride by a student attendee and the interview began earnestly I the car.
  • Why would you want to join Amazon? Bezos asked. If I can join you early, I can be part of something historic replied Britwistle. Ego being proffered, Bezos yelled – – that s how we think at Amazon.com – Every startup wants to rule the world – only few get there. Next question was why are manhole covers are round? Britwistle replied perhaps they are easy to roll over to kerb. A good guess which Bezos liked. Off the cuff reasoning was important
  • Company’s first letter to shareholder: We’ll make bold rather than timid investment decisions where we see a sufficient probability of gaining market leadership advantages. Some these investments will pay off; while others will not, and we will have learned another valuable lesson in either case. – The risk taking has to be in the mindset and blood

Ideas and Inspiration:
Wal-Mart’s founder’s autobiography: Sam Walton: Made in America had a deep impression on Bezos as he expanded his company. He wove Sam’s credo into his cultural fabric of his company – i.e. frugality and a “bias for action”. He underlined one particular passage in which Walton described borrowing the best ideas of his competitors.

Success & Shrewd Investment:
Does success and celebrity leads to more success – perhaps to certain extent that’s true. Bezos was able to invest in Google early and minted nearly a billion dollars!!

Frugality and Company Ethos:
With door-desks and minimal subsidies for employee parking, Bezos was reinforcing the value of frugality. A coffee stand at his building used to give a loyalty card and it entails a free coffee after every 10 coffees purchased. and Bezos when he gets his free 11th coffee, will hand it over to a colleague in the line – even though he was a millionaire. Jeff Bezos and Alison Algore (who had HR experience) pondered over  Amazon’s values and came out with 5 core values: Customer Obsession, Frugality, Bias for Action, Ownership and high bar for talent. Amazon would add a sixth value later, innovation. Looking for the way to reinforce Sam Walton’s notion for ‘bias for action’ – he instituted ‘Just Do It’ award – an acknowledgement of an employee who did something notable on his own initiative, typically outside if his primary job responsibilities. Even if the action turned out be an egregious mistake, an employee could still earn the prize as long as he or she taken risks and shown resourcefulness in the process. Considering his frugality, the prize was a size 15 Nike sneakers from the basketball player Dan Kreft.

Work-Life Harmony:
When confronted with work-life balance question as work hours escalated, he said: The reason we’re here is to get stuff done, that’s top priority. That’s the DNA of Amazon. If you can’;t excel and put everything into it, this might not be a place for you!’

Operating Mantra:
Time to time they change: From ‘Get Big Fast’ to discipline, efficiency and eliminate waste.

Startup Philosophy:
His one is best epitomized in his space venture Blue Origin. The company has a Latin motto: Gradatim Ferociter, translates to “Step by Step, Ferociously”. The phrase accurately captures Amazon’s guiding philosophy as well. Steady progress toward seemingly impossible goals will win the day. Setbacks are temporary. Naysayers are best ignored. What’s Jeff’s Motivation? from his own word: I’ve realized about myself that I’m very motivated by people counting on me. I like to be counted on.

Restructuring:
Two-pizza teams – employees would be organized into autonomous groups of fewer than ten people – small enough that, when working late, the team members could be fed with two pizza pies. These teams would be independently set loose on Amazon’s biggest problems. They would likely compete with one another for resources and sometimes duplicate their efforts, replicating Darwinian realities of surviving in nature. Freed from the constraints of intracompany communications, could move faster and get features to customer quickly. To certain extent this didn’t help much but for certain it did.

PowerPoint Out, Narrative In:
All meetings had to have a maximum six page narrative of the agenda of the meeting and solution proposed. Further refinement to this idea – whenever a new idea or feature was proposed, the narrative should take the shape of a mock press release. The goal was to get the employees to distill a pitch into its purest essence, to start from something the customer might see – the public announcement – and work backward. You can’t make a decision about a feature or product without precisely knowing how it be communicated to the world – and what the hallowed customer would make of it.

Handling People:
Never tolerate stupidity, even accidental stupidity. Hone an unbelievable ability to be incredibly intelligent about things that are nothing to do with you and be totally ruthless about communicating – only a leader can do that.

AWS:
Started of an experiment Chris Pinkham and as Amazon can’t fulfill its own compute requirement at short notice. Coded in the distant South Africa from Seattle, AWS was born out of necessity and for scaling to infinity. A great game changer for the next big cloud era. The first AWS mission written by its head Jassy had to be within the six page limit. It had the following bits:

  • To enable developers and companies to use Web services to build sophisticated and scalable applications
  • Possible primitives that subsequently turn into Web Services include from storage to computing to database, payments and messaging.
  • We tried to imagine a student in a dorm room who would have at his or her disposal the same infrastructure as the largest companies in the world

Jeff’s Reading List:

  1. Sam Walton: Made in America by Sam Walton
  2. Memos from the Chairman by Alan Greenspan
  3. The Mythical Man-month by Fredrick P. Brooks
  4. Build to Last: Successful habits of Visionary Companies by Jim Collins
  5. Good to Great: Why some companies make the Leap…and other’s Don’t by Jim Collins
  6. Creation: Life and How to make it by Steve Grand
  7. The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That will change the way you do business by Clayton M Christensen
  8. The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement by Eliyahu M. Goldratt
  9. Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation  by James P. Womack
  10. The Black Swan The Impact of highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb