Author: Vedant Khanduja

  • Having a Nemesis – Sunday Clippings #13

    Hello there,

    Last week I wrote a blog post about the difference between the Performance Culture and Learning Culture — and another one on ‘Nancy Pearl’s Rule of 50‘, an interesting rule that will help you to quit the books you find boring. I also published my book notes for Wonder by R.J. Palacio last week.

    And that’s all of them. Moving on to the newsletter now.

    This week’s newsletter issue is inspired by an essay by author and musician, Ted Gioia, who draws attention to the importance of having a nemesis for self-improvement.

    A nemesis is someone who challenges you to keep up with them. The nemesis is a rival you’re jealous and inspired of at the same time. The nemesis consequentially motivates you to grow and achieve progress and along the way, the nemesis gets benefitted as well. Gioia writes,

    “The first thing to understand is that your nemesis is not your enemy. Or, put differently, your nemesis is more than just an enemy. Rather, the nemesis is an adversary is who is like your dark twin. Even as you battle with the nemesis, you share a kind of DNA. The gaze at your nemesis is like looking into a mirror, but one of those fun house mirrors at the carnival, where everything is both recognizable and distorted.”

    One of the greatest rivalries in the art world — between Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse led to many of the most celebrated artworks of modern times:

    “Matisse and Picasso didn’t like each other’s paintings at first, but they seemed to sense at once the power each had to challenge and stimulate the other. For the rest of their lives each would keep a keen eye on the other’s new work, provoking each other to paint the same subjects, sometimes even with the same title. There are many ways to describe their relationship. It could be called a rivalry, a dialogue, a chess game – Matisse himself once compared it to a boxing match. But it also became the abiding friendship of two titans who, daring to paint the ugly, transformed our sense of beauty in art.”

    Picasso commented, “No one has ever looked at Matisse’s painting more carefully than I, and no one has looked at mine more carefully than he.”

    There are many other great examples of how having similar rivals can lead to great work: Beethoven and Daniel Steibelt, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. Having a rivalry that forces you to be more creative challenges your ability every day.

    Having a nemesis can be more powerful than having a mentor. The nemesis usually gives you negative feedback and this, in turn, gives you the motivation to prove them wrong and use the criticism to your own benefit.

    Competent rivals will always have some valid points in the feedback they provide you. There is no winner or loser in healthy rivalries. It’s a partnership in which both constantly try to overpower each other but end up becoming successful together.

    Have a great week,

    This Week’s Clippings

    1 – Article – Here’s a great article that helped me understand the difference between the brain and the mind and how we can use one of them to change another and create lasting happiness and well-being. One of the methods that stuck out to me is called ‘Taking in the good’. It’s about deliberately staying with the positive experiences for long durations to get them recorded in our brains. Here are the three steps the writer mentions for taking in the good:

    “(1) Let a good fact become a good experience. Often we go through life and some good thing happens—a little thing, like we checked off an item on our To Do list, we survived another day at work, the flowers are blooming, and so forth. Hey, this is an opportunity to feel good. Don’t leave money lying on the table: Recognize that this is an opportunity to let yourself truly feel good.

    (2) Really savor this positive experience. Practice what any school teacher knows: If you want to help people learn something, make it as intense as possible—in this case, as felt in the body as possible—for as long as possible.

    (3) Finally, as you sink into this experience, sense your intent that this experience is sinking into you. Sometimes people do this through visualization, like by perceiving a golden light coming into themselves or a soothing balm inside themselves. You might imagine a jewel going into the treasure chest in your heart—or just know that this experience is sinking into you, becoming a resource you can take with you wherever you go.”

    2 – Podcast – Here’s a clipping I saved after listening to Tim Ferriss’ interview with Michael Gervais from his show Fear{less}:

    “The only reason I don’t have any science around this, other than my experiences, the only reason people change is because of pain. So the worst thing a friend could do, or a psychologist could do, or a coach could do is take away pain. Because pain is the impetus to be able to say, ‘I’m done. I’m not doing this anymore.’”

    3 – Book – Currently reading Deep Work by Cal Newport. It is a book about the practice of working with intense focus and no distractions. It is full of actionable advice for thriving in the new economy. Would absolutely recommend it! Here’s one of the passages I have highlighted so far:

    “To learn hard things quickly, you must focus intensely without distraction. To learn, in other words, is an act of deep work. If you’re comfortable going deep, you’ll be comfortable mastering the increasingly complex systems and skills needed to thrive in our economy. If you instead remain one of the many for whom depth is uncomfortable and distraction ubiquitous, you shouldn’t expect these systems and skills to come easily to you.”

    (This is an issue of the “Sunday Clippings”. Every week I compile various valuable ideas, learnings, along with my highlights from interesting articles, books and podcasts in a short and skimmable email newsletter. Sign up here to get future issues delivered directly to your inbox!)

  • Wonder by R.J. Palacio

    Rating : 9/10

    Genre : Fiction, Contemporary, Young Adult

    What It’s About

    Wonder is the story of August Pullman (aka Auggie), a 10-year-old boy born with a rare craniofacial disorder and his experience of attending a school for the first time. The book is based on the themes of kindness, identity, bullying, acceptance and friendship. Auggie’s journey is an emotional rollercoaster, from being bullied and called a “freak” to finding friends that truly accept and treat him like any other ordinary kid. It’ll make you smile, laugh and even shed tears at times.

    Palacio has written this book in eight parts which include the story being told from the viewpoints of various people who are a part of Auggie’s life including his friends, his elder sister, her boyfriend and more. The book also contains numerous life lessons and quotes in the form of “Mr. Browne’s Precepts” which I quite liked.

    Key Thoughts

    The book was truly heart-warming and inspirational to read. Since there’s a vast range of characters, you’ll definitely relate to a few of them. The book felt short because of how fast-paced it was.

    Some of the viewpoints given in the book were too short and seemed unnecessary. Just when you get invested in an individual’s perspective, it switches and then you have to spend some time adjusting to someone else’s point of view.

    Despite this, I think that they were incredibly written. Reading the same story from different viewpoints shows us how there are two sides to every story. Even the antagonists appear less evil after you hear their explanations.

    It’s Auggie’s character development that makes this book so special. I love how he says in the opening sentence of the book, “I know I’m not an ordinary ten-year-old kid” nonetheless by the time the book ends, he says, “To me, though, I’m just me. An ordinary kid.”

    The book reminds us of the importance of being kind to each other and loving people unconditionally. Overall, it was a great read, This is one of those books I recommend to people of all ages even though it is promoted towards young adults.

    Summary Notes

    “I wish everyday could be Halloween. We could all wear masks all the time. Then we could walk around and get to know each other before we got to see what we looked like under the masks.”

    “Don’t give them that power over you. Don’t give them the satisfaction.”

    “For a second, I imagined how cool it would be to be Via and Justin right then, having all these people standing up and cheering for them. I think there should be a rule that everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their lives.”

    “It’s so weird how that can be, how you could have a night that’s the worst in your life, but to everybody else it’s just an ordinary night.” “Or maybe it was even a good day. Maybe somebody won the lottery today.”

    “Kinder than is necessary. Because it’s not enough to be kind. One should be kinder than needed.”

    “Courage. Kindness. Friendship. Character. These are the qualities that define us as human beings, and propel us, on occasion, to greatness.”

    “.. the best way to measure how much you’ve grown isn’t by inches or the number of laps you can now run around the track, or even your grade point average– though those things are important, to be sure. It’s what you’ve done with your time, how you’ve chosen to spend your days, and whom you’ve touched this year. That, to me, is the greatest measure of success.”

    “It’s not enough to be friendly. You have to be a friend.”

  • Nancy Pearl’s Rule of 50

    School has taught us to finish every book from the start. Students feel that it’s necessary to read every single word of the material because of its possibility of showing up on a test. However, this is one of the most unhealthy habits associated with reading.

    We need to change our mindset about quitting books. Quitting is usually considered a negative activity but best-selling author and librarian, Nancy Pearl recommends the Rule of 50 for the books you don’t want to finish. She writes:

    If you’re 50 years old or younger, give every book about 50 pages before you decide to commit yourself to reading it, or give it up.

    If you’re over 50, which is when time gets shorter, subtract your age from 100 – the result is the number of pages you should read before deciding whether or not to quit.

    If you’re 100 or over you get to judge the book by its cover, despite the dangers in doing so.

    This surely makes sense because as you get older, you have less and less time to waste on a boring book. If you’re reading a book you don’t find interesting for the sake of finishing it, you might as well drop it and not feel guilty about it.

    Also, since our age is finite, we can only read a limited number of books. Every time you’re reading a book from start to finish, it becomes one of those limited books you read in your lifetime. For every four books you give up on, you find one that you like.

    If you find yourself constantly checking how many pages are left in a book, it’s time to stop reading it and start reading something else. Completing a book isn’t a victory and quitting one definitely doesn’t mean you lack focus. A dull book is blocking behind it a list of books you might end up getting hooked onto.

  • Performance Culture and Learning Culture

    I came across this thought-provoking tweet by Adam Grant today. It’s the clash between Performance and Learning Culture. We hear more and more about the performance culture and are a part of it even though we understand that learning culture is about being true to ourselves.

    In fact, learning is the best way to reach your absolute performance and at the same time feeling like you earned it. This is especially relevant in education.

    The learning goals provide you with genuine enthusiasm and motivation for studying. You focus on in-depth learning rather than superficial goals that aren’t under your control. Individually focusing on the outcome can have detrimental effects on one’s performance.

    One of the ways I find helpful is to immerse yourself in the content and do extra research. Exploring the endless supply of information we have, the internet about something related to a subject you’re studying. Being accountable to yourself making a list of your learning goals might help. Having a desire to acquire knowledge and skills not only makes one self-efficient but also helps to improve interest in the class.

    While goal setting is an excellent way to achieve more, there’s a paradox involving goals and satisfaction. People who set high goals such as getting all A’s or receiving an excellent job offer perform better than the ones who aim for low.

    But people with lower goals are found to be more satisfied. This happens because they achieve what they aimed for. Increasing satisfaction comes from accomplishing anything higher than the goal you set.

    A balance between setting attainable goals while learning regularly for personal satisfaction and in-depth knowledge sounds like the growth mindset to me.

  • The Tongue and Quill

    For decades, “The Tongue and Quill” manual has been used by the U.S. Air Force to improve their written and verbal communication skills. The Air Force communication is required to be exceptionally clear and direct.

    Unclear messages can cause expensive mistakes. Simplification of information and making each word count is vital in the military environment. But this is not limited to the Air Force, most of these techniques are valuable to have in the professional world as well.

    The Tongue and Quill six-step checklist contains the six important steps for effective written communication:

    1 – The First step is to question the need for communication and the receiving audience. Analyzing the purpose of writing helps to eliminate the delivery of information that might not be useful.

    2 – This leads to properly being aware of the information being shared and having sufficient knowledge about it before sharing it.

    3 – This also includes putting the logic to work and adding your thoughts to support the idea.

    4 – Moving on to the structure, a straightforward format should be followed without any self-important words or fashionable phrases.

    5 – The writing must be aimed to inform and not to impress. The language used should be as clear and understandable as possible.

    6 – It is always helpful to take constructive feedback from others and make the necessary improvements.

  • When Taking Advice

    The thing about advice is that it just tries to make you well informed. In the end, you will have to make the decision yourself.

    You don’t get all the details you need, You don’t get it from the people who have the same perspective as you. Advice just tries to hint you towards the right direction. It cannot be used as a strategy.

    People are not as transparent as you might want them to be. Everyone is inclined towards their biases that usually don’t get mentioned. They have their own experiences and struggles that also don’t get discussed.

    It is important to ask for advice only from the right people who are qualified enough to provide you with accurate information.

    Ultimately, it will just make the decision-making process easier. You will have to find the way out yourself.

    Ask yourself if the adviser is a reliable source. It is not rude to refuse advice, it’s responsible. History teachers might not be able to give the best explanation on how to solve a math problem. Your grandparents might not be able to tell you the steps to create your social media account.

  • Insecure Leaders – Sunday Clippings #12

    Hello there,

    This week I wrote a new blog post that you might want to check out. It is about describing the block, an interesting problem solving-skill taken from Kiese Laymon’s recent interview. Moving on to the newsletter now.

    This week’s newsletter issue is inspired by a story by Hans Christian Anderson I recently re-read. If you’re not aware, he is a Danish writer famous for writing children’s literature. Most of his stories and poems have a healthy balance of light and dark subjects and convey important moral life lessons which makes them ideal for children to read.

    “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is a short story by him that conveys an important lesson about insecure leaders and challenging the status quo. In this story, no one dared to speak the truth as they are scared of appearing unfit for their positions. Except for a little child who wasn’t afraid because he had no position to lose and when he said it, everyone joined him as if they were waiting to let it out.

    “But he hasn’t got anything on,” a little child said. “Did you ever hear such innocent prattle?” said his father. And one person whispered to another what the child had said, “He hasn’t anything on”, a child says. “But he hasn’t got anything on!” the whole town cried out at last.

    The Emperor shivered, for he suspected they were right. But he thought, “This procession has got to go on.” So he walked more proudly than ever, as his noblemen held high the train that wasn’t there at all.

    One of the things that successful leaders have in common is that they want to take feedbacks and are constantly seeking to change and improve. The emperor in this story was insecure and fearful which lead to his ministers being insecure as well. It’s hard to challenge someone superior to you even if they are wrong. But ultimately change is absolutely necessary, especially in the cases where the leaders are wrong themselves.

    John Lubans, Jr. is known for his relatively short yet informative essays on leading and leadership. Here’s an excerpt from his book, Library Administration & Management describing the insecure leader –

    “Some highly insecure bosses can be decisive and seemingly effective; they are successful at masking the most visible of their insecurities. And if they are in a tradition-bound business with low expectations for innovation, they can be seen as “successful.” However, over time, the less-secure boss tends to develop a largely reactive organization because, in my experience, he employs acquiescent people and avoids independent thinkers.”

    I found the last line of this passage particularly interesting, “He employs acquiescent people and avoids independent thinkers”. Acquiescent people are mere puppets nodding at everything the leader says. Hiring them is rather ineffective for the organization as there’s no constructive feedback when all employees agree to everything the leader says. Insecure leaders are biased towards them as they need people to confirm their actions whilst they’re unsure about it themselves.

    The emperor cared too much about what people had to say about him and his clothes. Effective leaders are confident within themselves and learn from their mistakes. “Leadership is not the private reserve of a few charismatic men and women. It is a process ordinary people use when they are bringing forth the best from themselves and others.”

    Have a great week,

    This Week’s Clippings

    1 – Blog Post – I found one of Morgan Housel’s blog posts this week very interesting. He explains how expectations and forecasts are two separate things. Here are some of the clippings:

    “An expectation is an acknowledgement of how things worked in the past and will likely work in the future. A forecast is strapping that idea to a specific point in time. In an ideal world we could forecast investment details with pinpoint accuracy. But we usually can’t, because there are too many moving parts and unknowns to identify exactly when and how billions of strangers will act.”

    “There is no reason to forecast unless you’re going to take specific actions tied to that forecast. If you want to take fewer actions without being willfully blind to the future, just have expectations.”

    2 – Podcast – This episode on Naval Ravikant’s podcast on how we all are equal in our infinite ignorance. He says, “This brings us to the related point that science is never settled. We should always be free to have new creativity and new conjecture. You never know where the best ideas are going to come from. You have to take every idea that’s made in good faith seriously.”

    (This is an issue of the “Sunday Clippings”. Every week I compile various valuable ideas, learnings, along with my highlights from interesting articles, books and podcasts in a short and skimmable email newsletter. Sign up here to get future issues delivered directly to your inbox!)

  • Describing the block

    I recently came across an interesting piece of writing advice from author and essayist Kiese Laymon. In an interview with Literary Hub, he says, “With my head down, like I’m trying to concuss myself. I try to describe the “block” and once it’s described I decide what I need to go through it. Then you have to turn around and describe the feeling of running through it. We’re writers. We don’t run through anything without describing what we ran through.”

    Not just in writing, this appears to be a great problem-solving skill to have. Describing an issue leads us to properly understanding what the issue is, we discover something new in the process of putting it into words, which finally leads us to find ways to fix the issue.

    This is often in the destination – obstructions form but there several facts associated with both that play an important role in the clear understanding of the problem but go unobserved. As it’s rightly said, “a problem well stated is half solved.”

  • Inflated Praise – Sunday Clippings #11

    Hello there,

    This week I posted three new posts on the blog that you might want to check out: Good Reasoning on giving clear and accurate reasonings, Seeking Sacrifice on breaking out of the Gratification Trap and the difference between Opinions and Observations. Moving on to the newsletter now.

    This week’s issue is about Inflated Praise which comes from the same place as bad feedbacks. Inflated praise is very unhelpful, especially for children. You’re telling them they’ve done the “best” in something which leads to unrealistic expectations they create for themselves.

    “Adults may also try to raise children’s self-esteem by giving inflated praise. Instead of telling children they did well, adult may tell them they did incredibly well. In one study, adults read scenarios involving children with high or low self-esteem, then wrote down the praise they would give. Adults gave children with low self-esteem more inflated praise (33%) than they gave children with high self-esteem (18%). These findings were replicated in in-home observations of parent–child interactions.”Child Development Perspectives, Volume 10

    The fascinating thing here is that inflated praise mainly has two effects on children with low self-esteems – Some of them are able to perform better as the praise might be a form of motivation for them. It creates an incredibly protective surrounding for them where they don’t feel down but rather are supported and encouraged to do better.

    The second one is more common, the inflated praise creates large amounts of unnecessary pressure on a child who’s already struggling with low self-esteem and ends up feeling like they have to perform in a certain way to live up to the high standards assigned for them.

    An article by Eddie Brummelman on Behavioral Science gives an interesting example: “A teacher told me about a boy in her class, whose mother gives him lots of inflated praise. One day, as the boy was making a drawing, he took a close look at his own drawing, then at the other children’s drawings, and said, “I’m not an amazing drawer… My mom tells me I am, but I know others are better than me.”

    Telling someone they’re “extremely” good at something would usually be a false statement which is the reason inflated praise should be avoided while giving feedbacks. It is not realistic and might end up backfiring.

    Have a great week,

    This Week’s Clippings

    1 – Blog Post – These five questions in one of Seth Godin’s daily post this week are really useful for making things unclouded in the head.

    2 – Article – Something else I saved for sharing this week was an article about Haruki Murakami and the Scarcity of Serious Thought. It’s about how working on creative processes becomes frustrating and stressful when you’re doing it with a full-time job. Here’s an excerpt:

    “Against the advice of nearly everybody, he sold his bar, and moved to Narashino, a small town in the largely rural Chiba Prefecture. He began going to bed when it got dark and waking up with the first light. His only job was to sit at a desk each morning and write. His books became longer, more complex, more story driven. He discovered what became his signature style.”

    3 – Article – This article about the differences between lifelong learners and skill-seekers. It talks about how skill-seekers are driven by economic benefits or improvements whereas lifelong learners have a lifelong love for learning and intellectual fulfilment. Here’s a clipping:

    Skill-seekers are looking for ‘just-in-time’ education and training. They are seeking the fastest, most effective and most affordable options for accomplishing very specific goals. They want raises, promotions and new jobs. They want to put more money on the table for their families. And they want real outcomes and accountability. It won’t just be whether they finished a course or program but whether doing so actually leads to a better work outcome. They aren’t doing this for fun; they’re doing it for funds. And it is critical that any educational institution or employer understand the distinction.”

    4 – Software – While learning some new keyboard shortcuts, I discovered a groundbreaking software by Microsoft called PowerToys. It has some really cool features like the pop-up run thing to search your files, colour picker and a feature that aligns your windows in a specific order. These features might not be necessary  for everyone but they’re great for speeding up the workflow system on your computer.

    (This is an issue of the “Sunday Clippings”. Every week I compile various valuable ideas, learnings, along with my highlights from interesting articles, books and podcasts in a short and skimmable email newsletter. Sign up here to get future issues delivered directly to your inbox!)

  • Opinions and Observations

    Opinions come from a very personal point of view, They portray a judgement I have formed about something or someone which may not necessarily be based on facts or knowledge.

    The opinions of two individuals are usually distinguishable. They might be based on assumptions that lead to changes in them over time.

    However, observations are not opinions. They’re based on facts and knowledge about something you have seen, heard or noticed. Even though everyone has the same set of human eyes, different people look in different directions which leads to discrete observations about the same things.

    Observations can be proven true or false while opinions can’t be proven because they’re based on a person’s judgements and sentiments. These may be deceptive but cannot be categorised as false. “This book has 700 pages” is an observation statement and “This book is too lengthy and boring” is a personal opinion.