Sunday, December 16, 2018

Grit by Angela Duckworth - A Delightful Read

Most successful people are driven by the desire to become better which is what is signified by Grit. They start from level 0 and are so driven by the desire to improve that they spend so much time and effort on it until they master it. One key thing to note here is that while it is okay to try out different things from time to time until you find the one which you really like/passionate about but just to obsesses with a certain idea/project for a short time, lose interest and move on to something else is NOT advisable. The author in her specially designed surveys for measuring Grit added special weightage if the respondent had persisted with an extra-curricular activity for more than a year, thus indicating that it is a sign of grit if you keep up with your hobby/interest for more than a year. It takes lot of time to improve and get better aka a year/short-period is not enough.

You have to work hard, persevere and fight with problems to fulfill your potential. Luck, environment cannot substitute for Grit.

Another key takeaway is that Talent alone does not mean a person is gritty. Nor does aptitude guarantee achievement. 

Charles Darwin penned a distinction between high achievers – Men do not differ much in intellect, only in zeal and hard-work. And this is an eminently important difference.

You have to be a plodder just like Charles Darwin was.
Darwin indulged in semi-willful forgetting. He kept thinking about the same questions long after others would move on to different and easier problems. For him the questions were alive at the back of his mind.

 It has to be recognized that men the world over possess amounts of resource, which only very exceptional individuals push to their extremes of use.

·      Another key thing that Angela highlight is that mythologizing natural talent lets us all of the hook.
It makes people think that the person was born with that talent for absolutely no one wants to sit on the pool deck as the amateur swimmer transforms him/her to expertise. When it comes to talent – we prefer mystery to mundanity.

Talent X Effort = Skill

Skill X Effort = Achievement

Also, the book provides an elegant definition of talent
 Talent is how fast we can improve our skills when we invest effort.

How to master a Skill?

To do anything really well, you have to overextend yourself. You pay twice as much attention and do the same thing over and over again, until what was never natural becomes second nature.

The book is full of some elegant quotes –
Eighty percent of success in life is showing up.

So never shy away from the challenges.

Grit  = Effort = Showing Up/Never Giving Up

Grit is more about stamina than intensity.

Grit is not about falling in love but staying in love with the task you have picked up.

Often people never get to show how gritty they are because they have never found their passion. Passion is a compass that takes you some time to build, tinker with and finally get right and then guides you on your long and winding road to where, ultimately you want to be.

The author suggests that it is very important to set your goals and divide them into a hierarchy i.e Top Level -> Mid Level -> Low Level. And this is where Grit comes in – about holding the same top-level goal for a very long time.

Warren Buffett lists his method to set a long-term goal.
1.    First, you write down a list of 25 career goals.
2.    Do some soul-searching and circle the five highest priority goals. Just five.
3.    Take a hard-look at the 20 goals you didn’t circle. They’re what distract you, they eat away time and energy; taking your eye from the goals that matter.

We need to face the fact that time and energy are limited. Any successful person has to decide what to do in part by deciding what not to do.

There are always some parts of work that you will not like. IT should be enjoyable overall.

What are the identifiers/signs that shows a person is gritty?
è Apart from endurance related mental and physical tasks, one way to identify is persevering with your childhood tasks.
è following through on our commitments while we grow up both requires grit and at the same time builds it.
è If one does not “follow through” with extra-curricular activities it is highly likely that person is NOT gritty.

The book states that we should not assume that successful people started from a different place than the rest of us. Chances are, they took quite some time figuring out exactly what they wanted to do with their lives.
It is important to note that –
i)               You have to try many different things.
ii)             It will take time.
iii)           Your passion would turn out to be different.

We often mistake to think of passion is a sudden, all-at-once discovery. It is actually like that the opening scene is a much longer, less dramatic narrative.
The author’s words following this are a bit comforting. She says that Childhood is far too early to know what we want to be when we grow up. Interests are triggered with interactions with the outside world. It is a paradox, that the initial discovery of an interest often goes unnoticed by the discoverer. Crucially, the initial triggering of a new interest must be followed by subsequent encounters that retrigger your attention – again and again and again.

Thus, it is important to let kids try out different things and figure them out at their own pace. Rush a beginner and you’ll bludgeon their budding interest.

Another aspect which is equally important is PRACTICE.
There’s an inspiring example of Benjamin Franklin who home-schooled himself. He used to collect the best essays in his favorite magazine Spectator. Read and re-read them taking notes. Hid the originals in the drawers and rewrote them. He would then compare it with the original and correct his flaws. Hard to imagine this is how the man who came up with a lot of witty aphorisms was made.

You have to practice a lot. A term called deliberate practice has been used. i.e Create a schedule – daily habit.
The thing is – Nobody wants to show you the hours and hours of becoming. They’d rather show the highlight of what they’ve become.

It also helps if you can attach a higher-calling/sense of purpose to your passion. You tend to enjoy it more.

·      Mindset is extremely important. In the face of setbacks, you should believe that you can change the circumstances/master the situation. Positive self-talk is helpful too.
·      Good mentor helps too to build up Grit (parenting)

The very traits that steer up toward certain life situations are the very same traits that those situations encourage, reinforce and amplify. This there’s this virtuous/vicious cycle.

Culture is crucial as it shapes our identity so try to be in the company of gritty people.
If you create a vision for yourself, stick with it, you can make amazing things happen in your life.

Be early and Don’t complain.

Grit plays a far greater role than talent in achieving potential.

The book conveys a very powerful message - and reminded me not to fall in the trap of mediocrity and not lose hope.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Fair Shot


I think this book is a very honest attempt to explain why guaranteed income is needed specially now.
Some of the reasons why it is in the news is because of the looming threat of Artificial Intelligence which
is going to change the nature of economy but keeping that aside there are strong enough reasons to consider it.  Even though employment numbers tell a different story (less unemployment) -  the number of people living paycheck to paycheck, doing more than one job with no benefits - has increased. The benchmark of “employment numbers” no longer fully reflects the reality.

The author Chris Hughes’ Facebook co-founder has been humble enough to admit that “he got lucky”. His working class parents did just enough to provide him with opportunities (education) and he ended up at Harvard where he happened to choose Mark Zuckerberg as his roommate - what if he hadn’t?. It then turned out that they created Facebook and he ended up with half-a-billion dollars even before he had turned 30.

From his life story you get that working class vibe which is totally true.
He seems to have done a lot of introspection how he ended up in the 1% of the population and so young and it seems to have had a profound effect on him.

He makes a very passionate case for Guaranteed Income.
Everyone seems to have their own definition/interpretation of Guaranteed Income. It is sometimes called as Universal Basic Income i.e for all the people. I was a little surprised by his manifest for Guaranteed Income (note - he doesn’t call it UBI) but he does make a strong case for it with solid numbers and study as evidence. He calls for every working age adult making less than $50,000 a year to be given a $500 month which would be paid for by the top 1%  - total budget for it would be $290 billion i.e less than half of the US defense budget or the Social Security system. In Chapter-9 he also points out that there are some ridiculous tax loopholes which if plugged can provide funding for such a system. Like, Warren Buffett pays less tax than his assistant cause if you earn more than $250,000 a year - your capital gains tax rate is less and if you inherit some property or a mansion - you do not pay tax on it. Popular loophole for the ultra-rich.

This gives a very reasonable estimate for the programme and also answers a popular criticism of who’s going to fund it.

Also, there’s a common tendency to label the recipients of such a benefit as lazy or few other derogatory terms - but I find it appalling and the author also points out that such efforts in the past have been invasive - asking extremely personal and uncomfortable questions to females.
A relevant reading would be “Regulating the poor”.

I also got the sense in Chapter-8 about how extremely difficult it is to get such a bill (or as a matter of fact any bill) passed in both the Houses. Everyone has their own views, understanding of the subject and are eager to leave their own stamp on the bill - which leads to concessions, negotiations, stalemates and a few times it all works out.

I was a bit confused about why guaranteed income implementation is needed when there’s an Income Tax credit (EITC). There’s a chapter about it but I’m not fully clear yet.
I don’t say it often but this book has a very sincere moving “Afterword”!

To summarize I agree that The natural drift of capitalism toward inequality requires a constant vigilance to make the market for everyone, not just for the rich. And such a system is needed.

P.S -
It was remarkable to note that MLK was in favor of such an idea but was assassinated before he could start a movement for it. Alaska already has a similar prototype, Permanent Fund out of which all Alaskans are on an average paid $1400 a year and it has relatively less inequality.