Wednesday, 26 May 2021


Green Boy was on his way to school, where he would learn about the important things in life. Along the way, he had to go through the forest. Green Boy was a happy child and eager to learn, so he set out on the journey with a keen sense of adventure.

The evening on the first day of his journey, as he walked in the forest, he came upon a tree full of fruits. Green Boy looked up, hungry after an afternoon full of walking. And in the tree, he found many juicy fruits. Green Boy eagerly climbed up and ate a few of them.

As he was munching on one of the fruits, up higher in the tree, what did he see?

A shiny juicy fruit nestled amidst the leaves, all the way on the top of the tree. Shinier than any other, and bigger also. Green Boy was intrigued. He climbed up to get to that fruit and as he reached the top, he realized that it was actually the moon!

"Oh, such a wonderful thing!", Green Boy exclaimed "It would have been such a juicy shiny fruit!"

Hearing this exclamation, Mr. Merry Moon was amazed.

He said to Green Boy, "Wow! Green Boy, you are the only one who looks at me and sees a shiny juicy fruit, everyone else thinks I am a stinky old piece of cheese." Green Boy smiled sheepishly.

"Thanks to you, Green Boy, I feel happier today. You are a good friend", said Mr. Moon. Green Boy tipped his hat and went on walking.

It was dark by now and the forest was very silent, except for the rustling of the leaves. As Green Boy was turning into a path, what did he see in the bushes ahead of him? A pair of angry yellow eyes, shining from amidst the bushes.

Then came a growl and a roar and out came a large Grey Devil with its fangs! Grey Devil started chasing Green Boy, who ran for his life.

Grey Devil shouted behind him, "Stop you small little inconsequential little fellow. Ha.. ha.. you cannot run away. I am going to trouble you!"

Around the trees, amidst the bushes, on top of the stone path, the Grey Devil chased poor Green Boy. But Green Boy kept running. It was almost dawn by the time Green Boy managed to escape the Grey Devil.

Green Boy was tired. He had been running. He was tired, thirsty, and hungry. He came upon a green lake, filled with glassy green water and lots of leaves and plants floating on it.

His face lit up with a smile and he sat on the bank and started drinking water from the lake.

But soon, he heard a loud croaking noise. "Ribbittt. Ribbittt. Ribbittttttt".

Two eyes popped up from below the water. Green Boy was nervous and about to run away when he heard a voice call out.

"Who drinks the water from my lake without my permission?", Mr. Warty Frog said.

Green Boy was relieved it was not the Grey Devil.

He said, "Oh hello Mr. Frog. Sorry, I did not ask your permission. I am Green Boy. I was thirsty and this water looked so nice and refreshing. It was also the same color as mine. So, I took a sip"

Mr. Frog looked surprised.

He said, "Oh, what a wonderful thing to hear. Everyone else thinks this is a dirty swamp with stale icky water. You, Green Boy are the only person to think that this water looked nice and refreshing!"

Green Boy smiled sheepishly. Mr. Frog said, "You are surely a friend, Green Boy". Mr.Frog continued, "Come, let me take you to my home under the water and give you some breakfast".

So Mr. Frog took Green Boy into his lake and to his underwater home. There, Mr. Frog introduced him to Mrs. Frog and their two hundred children, all called Tadpola or Tadpolee. They all sat down and had a scrumptious breakfast.

After breakfast and after resting for some time, Green Boy bid farewell to Mr. Frog and his family and off he went. Along the way, in the forest in the late morning, he observed the beautiful things with happy eager eyes.

He was wandering through the green forest lost in its beauty. So lost was he that when he turned a corner he missed the large spider web and landed smack in the middle of the web.

Madam Itsy Bitsy Spider sat watching as Green Boy tried to jiggle away trying to free himself. But as she approached him, to see what to do with him, she was pleasantly surprised. Instead of being scared, Green Boy was actually in awe of the web.

He was saying, "Wow, look at this. Such a beautiful silver design, it catches the light so amazingly. Look at the intricate patterns and designs. Surely, whoever wove this web must be an artist"

As he gushed over its beauty, Madam Spider felt amazing about the web she had woven.

She went up to Green Boy and said to him, "Green Boy, you are amazing. Everyone else just gets scared when they get caught in my web. But you, you called me an artist. Made me appreciate my own creation!".

Green Boy looked sheepishly and smiled.

"Come, let me show you how to free yourself." Madam Spider said as she showed him the way to free himself from the enormous web.

Green Boy thanked Madam Spider and went on his way.

Along the way, he came across a giant anthill, built like a large castle rising from the ground. All around the anthill were busy ants marching in and out, carrying their food and other necessities. It was really a hive of activity, and there were so many things going on everywhere that it seemed like complete chaos.

Green Boy stood there looking absolutely amazed at this sight. His eyes were big as an owl's and he was genuinely amazed.

He exclaimed, "Wow. Such an amazing display. So organized these ants are. And so hardworking. Look how wonderfully they are going about their work!".

Hearing this, General Order Anticus the Third, or GOAT as he was known amongst his friends, stopped directing his battalion of soldier ants and looked incredulously towards Green Boy. He was so happy that a big teardrop formed in his ant eyes.

He came running towards Green Boy and kissed his hand and said, "Green Boy, you are so kind. Everyone else thinks we are pesky pests and calls us busybodies who are running around all over the forest floor."

He said, wiping away the tears of joy, "You, Green Boy are the only one who has said we are something good! You must surely be a friend."

Green Boy blushed again.

General Anticus said, "Come, I must take you to meet our Queen. She will be very happy to see you".

And off they went into the anthill. In there, General Anticus introduced Green Boy to the royal family and they all had tea with the Queen. It was a very fancy affair with many amazing intricate pieces of cutlery and grand paintings on the walls. Green Boy really enjoyed himself.

After Tea, Green Boy, bid farewell to the Queen and to General Anticus and his ant friends and headed onwards on his journey.

It was late evening again, and Green Boy was nervous about having to encounter the Grey Devil again. But, he wanted to make his way forward, so on he went.

As he was walking, he came across a quiet part of the forest. There were more hills and stones than trees, and the trees that were there did not have many leaves. He came upon one such barren tree, old and majestic, but without many leaves and pockmarked with age. But it was tall and sturdy.

Green Boy looked up in awe and even though it did not give any shade or a cool breeze, he was amazed by its tallness and strength.

He said, "What an amazing tree. And how many years it must have seen and how many people it must have provided shade and a cool breeze too!"

From way above the tree, from an eyrie up in the high branches of the tree, came a high-pitched whistle. A happy high-pitched whistle.

It was Grandma Glory Eagle. Down she came from her eyrie to meet Green Boy.
She took him under her wing and said, "Hello there Green Boy. Welcome to my home. Thanks for calling my home tree amazing. It is an amazing tree. My eyrie up there has been on this tree for so long. Nowadays, people just want to cut down this old tree, but you called it amazing and recognized its long strong history"

Green Boy felt happy listening to Grandma Eagle. He smiled sheepishly.
Grandma Eagle then took him up to her eyrie and she gave him cookies and an assortment of snacks to eat. They talked all about Green Boy's adventures and all the new friends he had made.

Then, when it was time to leave, and Green Boy was about to get down from the tree, he heard loud rustling from below the tree. There below the tree stood the sneaky, Grey Devil, looking up with its sharp teeth. It was looking up right at Green Boy.

Grey Devil was prowling, waiting for Green Boy to make his way down.
"It's trouble time for you Green Boy!" sneered Grey Devil, "I have got you now!".

Green Boy was worried. He asked for Grandma Eagle's advice on what to do. She suggested that he call all his friends and make a plan. So, Green Boy used Grandma Eagle's phone and called all his friends.

He called Mr. Merry Moon, Mr. Warty Frog, Madam Itsy Bitsy Spider, and General Order Anticus the Third. On a conference call, they all heard Green Boy's predicament, and together with Grandma Glory Eagle, they hatched a plan to put an end to the trouble Grey Devil was planning for Green Boy.

And what a lovely plan it was!

Soon, it was night, and Grey Devil was getting agitated. He was taunting Green Boy to come down.

The friends started putting their plans into action.

First, Mr. Moon turned off the lights completely.

It was pitch dark black and Grey Devil had trouble seeing himself, let alone the surroundings. He got nervous. What was happening?

Then, Mr. Frog started making loud and fierce croaking noises.


It was so loud and eerie in the darkness, that Grey Devil started shivering.

Then Madam Spider threw a huge web onto Grey Devil and trapped him where he stood. He could move just a bit, but could not get himself loose.

He was really nervous now. He was in the dark, hearing scary sounds and now he was trapped. He began sweating and shivering.

But the friends were not done. General Anticus had come with his battalion of soldier ants and they charged Grey Devil and started biting his legs.

"Awww, Awww, Awww", Grey Devil screamed as the stings of the soldier ant's bites ran up his legs. He was in trouble and he knew it.

Then Grandma Eagle swooshed down from high above with her powerful wings and sharp talons making a screeching sound.

Grey Devil could not see, but he knew that something big was rushing fast towards him. Left completely in the dark, with scary sounds, combined with feeling trapped from the web, stinging bites on his legs, and the screeching approaching monster from above, he finally had it. He started wailing.

He was so afraid by now, that when Green Boy said, "Hey, Grey Devil, will you trouble me again? Do you see what I can do?", Grey Devil immediately begged him to let him go.

Grey Devil said, "Oh, Green Boy, I am sorry to even think of troubling you. I saw you were small and inconsequential, so I thought of troubling you. But, you are so much more powerful and magnificent."

He shivered and continued, "I will leave you alone, and from now on, I won't trouble anyone because they are small or inconsequential. Please let me go."

Hearing his honest plea, the friends decided to end his misery.

Grandma Eagle went back to her eyrie. General Anticus asked his soldiers to stand down. Madam Spider withdrew her web and Mr. Frog stopped making the horrible croaking noise. And finally, when Mr. Moon turned on the lights, Grey Devil ran away so fast it was a funny sight to see.

All the friends had a hearty laugh. They all joined Green Boy in Grandma Eagle's eyrie and they had fun discussing the events of the evening. They told jokes about how they met Green Boy, and also about Grey Devil.

Grandma Eagle kept them supplied with cookies, cakes, and tasty juices. What a wonderful evening it was.

The next morning, Green Boy bid farewell to his friends. He had to head over to his school. He was eager to learn about the important things in life.

Grandma Eagle offered to show him the way so that he could reach there faster. So she flew above and Green Boy followed her down on the forest floor, observing the many things around him.

Soon, they reached the school and Green Boy said thanks to Grandma Eagle and bid her farewell. He had arrived at his school and was eager to go and learn new things.

It was a bright new morning. Green Boy felt happy in his heart. He had learned so much along the way, and he was eager to learn so much more!

Monday, 25 January 2021


The Bhagavad Gita has one of the earliest articulations of what we today know as the importance of mindset. It talks about the importance of "doing one's duty and not focusing on the fruits of one's labor". This is such a fundamental framing of the concept of mindset that many other following philosophies and disciplines have borrowed this and articulated it for their specific contexts.

But in many ways, following what the Bhagavad Gita and others say can be rather unnerving. Applying this mindset in one's daily life can feel like exhausting. It can feel like you are not making any progress at all. But you still need to keep on going, not worrying about or focusing on, expecting results.

Now there is emerging research in the field of behavior change, from the likes of BJ Fogg, that adds a different dimension. This identifies the role of small wins and incremental success markers have in wanting us to keep going. And help our brains wanting to adopt a new mindset. Andrew Hubermann, Stanford neurobiologist, and his study of the human brain has also shown that this 'incremental wins' approach is among the best ways to keep the motivation going and to reinforce it along the way. Most of the dopamine release in the brain happens not after achieving some big goals. But it is actually released when we are in pursuit of those goals.

So, is the timeless wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita which calls for a detachment from the goals and BJ Fogg's research about celebrating micro-wins inherently at conflict with each other? How can these two forces be resolved? One which is philosophical, and the other, that seems more practical and looks to create an environment that reinforces motivation by training our brains to be driven by the incremental wins.

Actually, it struck me one day that there is a very elegant resolution for this. And it can be very simple. It goes as follows.

Reframe the mindset into one which falls in love with the process. In fact, staying detached and doing the work is exactly what the incremental rewards should enable.

Fall in love with the process of doing and get the rewards from this. I would like to call this as the habit of 'going on a Process Quest'.

This is the simple and straightforward framing that makes the Growth Mindset something that can be learned. Which is to fall in love with the process. Change the mindset from "success comes from the eventual outcome of what you are doing", to "success is doing the process". This way the micro-goals and small wins will indeed be triggered when the process is being done.

Going on a Process Quest nicely resolves the tension. Detachment from goal orientation on one hand. And the motivation for behavior change requiring small wins on the other.

A Process Quest mindset provides an elegant solution by making this into a workflow for the mind, eliminating friction.

Saturday, 23 January 2021


Time blocking is a very effective workflow for me. Time blocking is a process where one creates set blocks on their calendar as a way to get things done. I have explored different ways to do it. These have been influenced by advice from the likes of Cal Newport, Nir Eyal, and Curtis McHale. What I have compiled below is something of a workflow I have created for myself to make time blocking work for me.

My workflow uses the concept of time blocking but marries it with two other productivity concepts.

  1. TO-DO lists - which don't really need to be defined.
  2. Setting specific intentions - which is the process of creating more specific intentions for tasks to be done in these time blocks. A side note: if I remember right, I heard about specific intentions in a podcast between Tim Ferriss and Jim Collins.

Specific intentions are clarifying the specific actions one wants to achieve in a specified time. The specificity is not at the outcome level, which is also needed, but the specificity is at the level of the granular actions, step by step if possible.


My workflow for time blocking follows a few steps.

  • There is information capture, which is the primary role of a TO-DO list.
  • There is converting that into specific intentions/actions.
  • Finally, there is the need to block time on the calendar to do those actions and not letting it just be a TO-DO list.
    • There might be an important sub-step which is to pre-assemble the items needed to do the work, as making the context right is very important to get things done.


Let me now provide details on how this process works and how I build a really productive workflow. As mentioned in the summary there are these steps. I encourage you to think of the steps. Thinking of it in steps is good as they reinforce the point of view that it is a workflow and needs to be done in a particular order for best results.

Step 1: Have a to-do list to capture tasks and outcomes with deadlines

This is needed for the 'capture and classify' part of the workflow. My experience tells me that using a calendar to capture is not a good choice. It does not seem to work as a good inbox. This is especially true as it does not allow for a neat list view and automatic reminders. I use Microsoft To-Do for this, but any other to-do list application can work as well.

Step 2: Then do the step of breaking the tasks up into specific sub-actions, step by step if possible

This is the essential task of schedule building as Nir Eyal calls it.

This is the way to convert a to-do list into an actionable, specific intent. Some tasks will need more effort to break down into specific sub-steps. Some will be self-explanatory or granular enough.

Spending this time to make it specific is an art and one needs to start doing it to find what works for you. And yes, this action itself will require a specific time-block on the calendar, ideally every day, to get this done. For me, one slot in the morning and one slot in the evening is needed on workdays. The evening slot can also be used to wind down.

Step 3: Then transition the specific actions into clear time-blocks on the calendar

These specific intentions are now converted into actual time-blocks on the calendar. This will take time and one will learn over a period of time how to get this right. But blocking time for tasks on the calendar is the only way to ensure there is a scheduled time to get to the job of doing this. In fact, I have seen that however specific the intention and however neatly it is captured in a TO-DO list with reminders, etc, if it is not assigned a time in the calendar, the likelihood of it getting done is low, and the likelihood of procrastinating or 'snoozing' the tasks is much higher.

Step 4: (might be needed) pre-assemble the items needed for the task or make that into a separate task and in the time block - write down the very 1st action

This is an essential task for when it is a big task that has multiple steps and has actions that are very dependent on some items which are needed to help complete the task. Allowing for the items need to to do work (tools, documents, location) to be readily accessible is a way to make it more effective and the ability to keep to the time block. This along with step 2 of articulating the exact first step will be the topics that will cause the most friction if it is not done. This is an important managing the context hack to get time blocking workflow to work well. Also, in my experience, it will help immensely in actually feeling productive and making progress.

That's it. Once these steps are followed, you have a workflow and you can actually get work done.

Other hacks that will help improve this process

There are few more hacks that can be added to this workflow which is suited for someone more advanced in this. They are:

  1. Ensure that recurring tasks are done on the same day / same time as that helps with habit-forming
  2. Ensure in a time-blocked calendar there is enough downtime and the calendar is not packed. Planning to do too much can be the easiest way for the system to fail
  3. Ensure to coordinate the schedule with others and ensure it is not infringing / too-rigid

Thursday, 14 January 2021


How does insight emerge? How is it formed? Where is it formed? And how can it be got out of the mind?

I have one simple answer to these questions.


Yes, the process of finding insight is literally to take it out of your mind and to put it outside your mind.

Take a pen and paper. Open up your laptop or iPad and write.

Write down what you are thinking. Write down what you want to think. Write down what someone told you to think. Write down what you told someone to think about. Write, and insights will come.

Writing is essential. It is the only way insights can form. I am not exaggerating. Even now when I am writing this, my mind is helping clarify thoughts I have on how insight emerges. My insight about insight is developing as I write these words.

Writing forces one to think and clarify concepts that are swirling in the mind. In doing so, writing provides the fastest way to develop insight.

It can be any form of writing. It can be in a physical paper note pad, it can be digital. In digital it can be in any format. A text file, a slide deck, a sheet with numbers. Anything works.

Read. And after reading, write

There are other aspects that help with the process of finding insight.

Reading is important as well. But, not as much as writing. My assumption here is one who is on the quest for insight, is naturally going to be a reader. A consumer of information. So that will be a natural process. It is not something that needs to be debated or told.

But after reading, getting out a pad, and writing about it, may not be an obvious action for most. In fact, I will guess that most do not do this. Many people are expecting to come up with something insightful just by thinking in their minds about what they have read. This very rarely works.

Writing is engaging

The process of engaging in writing, when the body is mostly stationary and the mind is nimble, is ideal. There is something about this.

One can observe that it is possible to talk while walking. It is possible to eat while walking. It is also possible to think while walking. In fact, a lot of thinking actually happens when one is walking. Movement is great, don't get me wrong. It might even help to move before getting to the act of writing.

But one cannot write while walking. Well, nothing beyond a short scribble, maybe.
So in some ways, one needs to be stationary, to write. Sitting or standing.

Writing is connecting, simplifying, and solidifying

Writing is an essential and necessary step to help the brain form connections. And from those connections come the insights.

The mind is always making connections, even when you are not writing. But, this kind of connection is at best temporary. It is flimsy and not yet well-formed. But when you write about it, the connections become stronger. Both on the writing apparatus, but also interestingly in the mind.

James Clear observes, "To simplify before you understand the details is ignorance. To simplify after you understand the details is genius".

By just thinking or reading, and not writing, we are trying to simplify before we have understood the details. This is a state of ignorance and no real insight comes from there.

But when we write, we have better understood the details. This is when real insight emerges from.

Basically, writing connects simplifies, and solidifies concepts that are in the mind. And from this fertile base, which is connected, simple and solid, insights can germinate, take root, and sprout.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

OCTOBER 10TH, 2030

Daphne Lee was frustrated. It was the second time this week that the AUTORIDE self driving automobile had made a mistake in the booking. Instead of arriving at the pick up location where she wanted to be picked up, it had arrived at the destination. Standing by the sidewalk, she worriedly scanned thru the fuzzy map on her rather bulky ONEMOB device for other nearby AUTODRIVEs, but she was resigned to the fact that there was not much she could do this close to her departure time to find another one. They had to be booked at least 24hrs in advance.

She decided to drive her 15 year old hybrid car to work, but secretly hoped that today of all days she would not get ticketed at the gantry – afterall, who could predict if the smartgrid had an excess of carbon credits that day or not. She had for this very reason, recently topped up her BITNOTE account.

At 41, Daphne was senior brand director for CENTREX Pharma’s BioEnhance range of ion supplements. This month they were launching the new pill, IonPro by BioEnhance, which helped regulate the body’s ion content for those increasing number of consumers who were implanting chips in their wrists to connect them to their devices. Work was hectic and especially so, as it meant a lot for her personally. This had been her project since she had joined CENTREX three years ago. She had poured her heart and soul into getting all the different aspects right.

Her meeting that day was with the head of R&D and product engineering team, who had asked her to convince them about the marketing plan she had come up for the IonPro product. They had cast doubts on why she was being a traditionalist and not allowing the crowdsourced brand platform to be the main channel of getting the message out to consumers. It was a critical, if not a make or break meeting.
Daphne had started her career back in 2015 in the erstwhile market research industry, starting off as a research executive working on traditional survey research. She had been a star, adapted to the already fast changing times in the latter half of the decade and rose up fast amongst the ranks to become the youngest account director in her company in 2022. She had immersed herself in new paradigms of research in that decade and had taken an active lead in transforming the research industry to be mobile first. Her paper on “Non-intrusive mobile surveys using key logging on social media sites” had even won the ESOMAR Congress award in 2018. But after 2024, things had started changing and for no mistake of her, a lot of her work and personal world were about the change.
2023 and 2024 had been in many ways a watershed years, but in a jarring kind of way. Multiple systemic shocks had sort of converged leading to multiple bubbles imploding that years from a tech perspective. The tech industry and the entire ecosystem of the commanding heights of economy which had been built up on that hype faced a significant set back from which today in 2030, the sector was still recovering. It had widespread impact on many parts of everyday consumer life, which by then had become very tightly locked into a tech fuelled world which was expected to be ever advancing.
Four shocks came to a head in 2023 which caused the unravelling.
First, the realization that Moore’s law of constant increase in processing power was not going to hold as it had come up against physical limits of miniaturization. Many academics as early as 1990s had warned of the limits of Moore’s law, but with advancing technology in manufacturing science, the processing power boom had continued another 20 years without becoming a serious threat to growth. This had coincided with the explosion of mobile computing and the challengers of Moore’s law had been side lined for short term growth. By 2018 it was evident in academic circles that the processing power increasingly demanded by consumer electronic devices in the next few years was going to be unsustainable in the current silicon based electronic technology systems. They also knew that investments in bio-mimicry and other substitutes to silicon where promising, but not yet advanced enough to replace silicon’s efficiency. But the industry faced the same problem as the energy sector where cheap fossil fuels crowded out investment in alternative energies. Similarly, cheap silicon crowded out research in other sectors – and unfortunately it did not even have the ticking time bomb that the energy industry faced due to global warming, so nobody paid any attention to the weak signals, obscure academics who warned about silicon’s limits and niche companies which offered bio-computing products.
The second shock was ever more telling. The world just ran out of rare earth metals (like Neodymium) which were essential to making smartphones. China which had been the main source of these rare earth metals in 2017 started tightening trade in these metals which started pushing up prices of devices which had been falling until then. Only towards the end of 2020 did the world realize that China had run out of this ore in the sense that it could be extracted at costs which had reasonable efficiencies. And China’s traditional closed door nature had not alerted the world earlier to a deep shortage of this ore. Massive retooling of the electronics industry followed in 2021 thru 2026 and many of the leading telecom equipment manufacturers had to cancel the next versions of their telecom devices. Major efforts at institutional recycling and scouring of old devices for refurbishments was instituted. Companies and economies started setting up Rare Earth Credits similar to Carbon Credits. The developing world’s adoption of smart device technology came to a grinding halt.
The third shock was a creeping threat as well, but it reared its ugly head in 2023 which made its impact all the more devastating. Undersea, submarine cables which carried the world’s internet bandwidth came under siege from terrorists. Proclaiming that the internet was a harbinger of the doom and filth, a terrorist group which had developed a navy and hitherto unknown submarine capabilities sabotaged multiple key undersea cables in multiple parts of the world. Instantaneously, for two months in late 2023, many parts of the world were cut off from internet completely! This caused irrevocable financial damage, but it also set in place a systemic problems affecting security like never before. Regaining access to sabotaged infrastructure is still an ongoing conflict in some parts of the world in today in 2030. Rebuilding alternative infrastructure, albeit faster, was still a set back by a few years. The gap between the internet haves and internet have-nots only grew.
The fourth and final shock, which particularly affected the marketing community was probably one which no one wanted to acknowledge, but was increasingly creeping into decisions. The internet had become too crowded with non-consumer data generated by AI bots which were so good that it was no longer possible for other algorithms or people to differentiate if a certain piece of content was created by an actual human being or if it was created by a malicious bot. Some of the 1st instances of this had been observed way back in 2015 when during the attacks in Paris, fake tweets of mass shootings by terrorists had surfaced misguiding law enforcement authorities about the veracity of the claims. Those had been engineered by some rogue elements, but over the next decade, the proliferation of AI algorithms and bots on the internet had grown exponentially. Researchers who had started off in using social media data to understand consumer behaviour had found some increasing benefits, but soon came up against lack of usable data. The first manifestation was increasing noise in social data. But soon, the problem deepened. It was not noise that was the problem, but being able to tell what was actual consumer generated information which correlated with actual behaviour, and what was generated by bots which had surpassed the turing test. This was further compounded by the fact that the main networks affected by this bot generate noise was the Google, Facebook and Amazon networks, which by 2019 had become virtual monopolies. These huge companies thru their search, social network and e-commerce monopolies had become the only gateways thru which consumers could access content in the internet. All advertising on digital for example was consumed mainly through Facebook video and with the launch of FaceTV even the broadcast medium had been compromised.
These four shocks combined had a profound effect on the scope and growth of the internet in the decade of 2020. It was only in the latter half of 2028 and 2029 that things had started coming back to the normalcy that was there before 2021. But many of the wild projections of 2030 from a couple of decades before had been discarded. Many of the base technologies which had started becoming mainstream in 2020 like 3D printing, drone delivery, data everything had remained in hibernation, not really hitting the exponential growth trajectories that were envisioned. While there was significant advancement in the base technologies, these have remained active in labs and among lead users. There are many systemic issues that need to be sorted out before these can hit the scale needed for them to have mass impact today in 2030. Consumer mindsets had ofcourse evolved, but we are only now coming to terms with the new normal.
Coming back to 2030, today Daphne was heading to the manufacturing hub of CENTREX in the outskirts of the city and not the workhub in the city central her company shared with others as a common work environment. As the journey took her more than an hour, she could not help but reminisce a little about those good old days back in late 2010s and early 2020s. She had owned multiple devices then -  a personal laptop and a tablet device, a wearable smart watch which alerted her to medical information and social messages. Her work life had consisted of a sleek office laptop and company smartphone. It had been a heady experience juggling multiple devices, screens and managing attention spans across the devices.
Today however, she has a single ONEMOB device as regulated by her rare earth credit. It is a great device with multiple functionalities and detachable segments for ease of handling, but because one requires sufficient screen size for various activities, it is by nature a slightly bulky device. Eyewear projection devices are available in the market to make it easier to see when directly projected in front of the retina, but they are still not available at mass market levels and remain niche. Bandwidth consumption restrictions mean that while she uses one device, she has to manage multiple networks. She connects on WRKMESH for her official work and SOCMESH for personal. The multiple firewalls between the two mean that doing both (work and personal) at the same time is not as seamless an experience as it had been in the past. New solutions are being introduced every other day, but still some fundamental problems needed to be sorted. And finally, she has to manage multiple payment solutions because of security and encryption requirements. She uses the BITNOTE platform for major expenses, and NICEDOLLAR for many everyday activities.
As Daphne pulls into the manufacturing hub facility, she is jolted back from her reverie of thinking of the world in 2010s and early 2020s. She is in 2030 now and has to deal with the new realities. Marketing has changed, but it has not changed much as well. Yes, social media is alive and thriving, but the extent of its appeal as a marketing medium is still being debated. Yes, most of the media is consumed digitally, and e-commerce is fast replacing the physical retail outlets, but not as fast as it was expected. And that is what she had come to make a case for that day to the head of the product team. That despite all the changes, the brand was still an important underlying factor defining the success of the IonPro by BioEnhance, and why she was convinced that letting it become something defined by the crowd will not get them anywhere and is not something she recommends.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011


Harnessing the benefits of complexity: Synopsis for the concept of City State

According to the United Nations State of the World Population Report in 2007, sometime in the middle of 2007, for the first time in the history of the human civilization, the majority of people in the world started living in urban areas rather than rural regions. The 20th and 21st centuries will see the largest cumulative migration of the human race, since the time our ancestors left Africa and started populating the continents of our vast planet some hundred thousand years ago - only this time around, instead of diverging across vast spaces of land we will be converging into dense agglomerations called mega-cities. At the same time the total size of our population has been growing exponentially after one hundred millennia of linear growth. One of the consequences of the enormous growth in the population of humans on the planet – estimated to reach 7 billion by end of 2011 from as low as a billion in 1800 – has been the mass exodus from villages and migration into cities.

Expert commentators have written both in awe and appreciation of this grand re-organisation of human populations and in tones of dire warning and prophecies of the cataclysm of what this drastic change might mean to the sustainability of our planet and of our race in the future.

This post is meant to be a first draft collection of thoughts exploring this significant ongoing development which also presents a peculiar dichotomy. The simultaneous growth of two socio-economic phenomena – large scale urbanisation and exponential population growth – which seem both like mutual stimulants and deterrents of each other. I will be following up this post in the following days with more research on this topic, at the core of which will be an exploration in the idea of scale, and how the right size poses significant advantages (no puns intended), despite the complexity it might bring with it.

But before exploring this, a small digression, to describe a simulated environment which might help identify the unique nature of scale and complexity and how they spontaneously influence each other to evolve positive outcomes.

One of the most time consuming, but intensely satisfying activities I did back when I was in school and college, was to play the famous strategy game Age of Empires and its various versions on my computer. First, I played against opponents generated by the artificial intelligence engine of the computer program, but soon found it more interesting and challenging to pit my wits against another player in an online multiplayer format. Each player in this game takes on the role of a strategist, a puppeteer or as some would see it a central planner, with a goal to marshal one’s military, economic and labour resources to advance one’s society. The game engine is built to simulate various constraints and provide comparative advantages between different societies to make the gameplay complex, competitive and capricious.

To achieve victory in these environments, one can adopt various different ‘strategies’, all of which essentially involve outmanoeuvring one’s opponents either through – direct military conquest or in a roundabout way through sheer economic dominance, leading to the stifling and eventual collapse of the opponent’s economy. While some measure of both military and economic activities are required in either case, each of them differs in the scale of the prime activity, biasing them to military or economic nature of victory. Beginners typically start by gathering resources provided by nature and which they then allocate to build housing, military training and socio-technological infrastructure. This is then used to create armies which can go and demolish and destroy the resources and military elements of the opponent thereby achieving victory. Within this controlled environment, what makes gameplay engrossing is the many different tactics that player can adapt. Players can adopt an aggressive military strategy with skirmishing bands of cavalry, infantry and ranged units which are sent roving around the map of the game universe, continuously harrowing their opponents. Or they can adopt a defensive stance, where the player protects one’s units with a large standing army, supported by fortifications to ‘claim’ territory and protect it against the intrusion by armies of the opponent.

But as one advances up the difficulty levels and as the opponent’s competence level increases, what becomes evident is that both an aggressive military force and defensive fortifications, both become hygiene factors and victory conditions become increasingly complex and demanding. Economic and socio-technological advancement allows players to build up enough resources to prevent the complete routing of one’s military forces and the destruction of one’s labour led supply side. Like a central planner’s utopia, territories are organised by a master planner into productive sections of city-states with defensive fortifications – supported by patrols and early warning beacons along the periphery of ones ‘claimed’ land – and subsequent inner concentric zones or regions of military and economic buildings and units, working to essentially replenish military strength and accumulating wealth

As this massive military-industrial complex model of the warring territories - organised into city-states - evolves, even siege weapons and aggressive military opportunism do not help the player to attain the conditions of victory through military conquest of the opponent. Repeated military skirmishes against the enemy result only in the denting of the periphery of the fortifications at a great military cost to the oppressor and, the defensive military units within the walls are advanced enough to thwart any attack onto the society’s core. Similarly, even as the total natural resources in the game-universe are exhausted – starting with rare metals followed by other resources like stone and wood – the essential scale of these city-states it seems is advanced enough to continue to thrive. This is achieved by establishing a trade-based structure to essentially keep the cycle going, eliminating sheer economic dominance as a way, to achieve victory by making it untenable to stifle the opponent’s economy by limiting access to resources.

It would seem that the warring sides have reached an impasse - a situation where the costs of military skirmishes against the enemy are no longer worth the effort and both city-states are resource-rich and have gained sufficient merit to sustain their society’s resource bill. However, it is important to note that the aversion for military opportunism in this scenario is not because of the fear of retribution, in the sense of mutually assured destruction – like in the heyday of the nuclear arms race between the Americans and Soviets – but in the sense of the lack of benefits at the margin. This it would seem to be a unique case of a stalemate – a positive sum solution in an essentially zero-sum environment – all made possible apparently by the development of city-states.

In the upcoming posts, I hope to further explore the proposition which postulates that as our societies seem to be hurtling uncontrollably towards doom - catalysed by the gargantuan complexity resulting from population growth and urbanisation and multiplied by the need to feed large populations on apparently limited resources - there is an inherent opportunity. This very complexity in its manifestation in the development of the mega city-state is essentially an antidote to the prediction of gloom and doom and the imminent resource wars of the mid-twenty-first century. And that if allowed to emerge in their strongest form, the city-states of the twenty-first century can actually be an engine for peaceful growth – a positive-sum game out of an apparent zero-sum environment.

But before I wind up this post, I must assuage the outrage some hardcore gamers and Age of Empires experts might be feeling right now, by acknowledging that I have taken some liberties in describing the scenario of the emergence of these warring superpowers. Any Age of Empires aficionado worth his salt will immediately realise that the apparent notion that the supply side of supporting the city-state’s demanding resource bill can be supported through trade alone is incorrect. This pipeline will become very unstable once the natural resources are completely exhausted. This is because trading requires open markets, which are only possible if there are allies.

However, while the Age of Empires environment is designed to ensure victory only at detrimental costs to the opponent through military appropriation, this need not be the case in the real world. While I am in no way arguing for a purely ‘financial trading everywhere’ scenario in the real-world as a parallel to the unfettered open markets in the game, global free trade (adequately regulated) is seen by almost everyone, excepting those from the extreme left and the extreme right, as the best way to even deal with rouge nations. But that said, I must also note that even an inherently zero-sum environment like the AOE universe does offer a benign way to achieve victory arising out of the impasse of warring super city-states – by the building of a Wonder. A Wonder in the parlance of an Age of Empires gamers is the manifestation of the heights to which the city-state can grow, a monument so grand that building it poses an immense drain on resources for society and can therefore be afforded only by the most meritorious and accomplished.

In the universe of Age of Empires, a wonder is usually manifest as a grand monument – a cathedral, a temple or a pyramid – which embodies the meritocracy of the builder society. Anybody who builds one and can retain that merit for an extended period is according to the algorithm of the game, worthwhile as being heralded as a winner. It would not be improbable to imagine parallels in the real world, of meritorious traits, being heralded as signposts indicating winners – the productivity of the New Yorker, the quality standards of a Munchener, the design aesthetics of a Sao Paulista, the temerity of a Mumbaikar, the dedication of a Shanghaian, the prudence of a Lagosian etc.

With the right scale, it is possible to manage and channel complexity to attain sufficient merit to build the real-world equivalents of a Wonder. It will be the essential argument of my further research on this topic that cities are the best expression we have of an economic, social and political unit that is capable of the harnessing the benefits of scale and complexity by tying them together in a tight mutual order to forge a grand future.


Image credit: Screenshot from the interwebs (Google Image Search for 'City Complexity' and 'Age of Empires Screenshots’), used with thanks



Monday, 7 March 2011


An interesting map of the submarine data cables that keep the global networks humming can be found here.

One can zoom in and out of the map just like any other Google map.
When any of the lines indicating the submarine cables are clicked, data pertaining to that cable are displayed. This includes details like: date since when it has been in service (RFS - Ready For Service), the total cable length, the landing points.
An interesting data that it displays is the owners list. Many of the submarine cables seem to be owned by multiple corporations from multiple nationalities. This is understandable - considering the nature of investment required and the distribution of the utility derived.
This is a reality of the way our transnational, global resources are owned and accessed in today's world.
However, if seen in the context of how other scare resource with multiple ownership is increasingly been seen as a trigger for future conflict, the ownership diversity of submarine cables can be alarming.
Take for instance this snippet of information I came across -  40% of human population today gets its fresh water from sources that are 'controlled' by two or more countries (UN Millennium Project). This is being seen as a probable driver of future conflict considering that water is a scarce resource.
Brahma Chellaney's new bookWater: Asia's New Battlegroundis a pioneering study on the topic of water scarcity and the potential of shared water resources to become a trigger for conflict.
Asia is home to many of the world's great rivers and lakes, but its huge population and exploding economic and agricultural demand for water make it the most water-scarce continent on a per capita basis. Many of Asia's water sources cross national boundaries, and as less and less water is available, international tensions will rise. The potential for conflict is further underscored by China's unrivaled global status as the source of transboundary river flows to the largest number of countries, ranging from India and Vietnam to Russia and Kazakhstan; yet a fast-rising China has declined to enter into water-sharing or cooperative treaties with these states, even as it taps the resources of international rivers.
While bandwidth infrastructure cannot be compared on a one-is-to-one basis with a natural resource like water, it will be interesting to study the implications of the multiple ownership of 'bandwidth' infrastructure in the future, considering that 'all' of our information nowadays flows through these cables?
The short answer is - in this case it could be a good thing that there are multiple owners, as it limits the risk of misappropriation by any one group or nation. However, I will be researching more on this topic in the upcoming days and will try to develop more robust scenarios to explore the implications of multiple ownership of bandwidth infrastructure.  
As a corollary to this discussion, it is worthwhile checking out Parag Khanna's TED talk (here) on how infrastructure (oil pipelines, etc) are redefining the map of the World, beyond the boundaries of nation states.
Image Credit: Screenshots from TeleGeography's SubmarineCableMap, used with thanks