Are you an expert?

Experts come in many flavors.

A couple of weeks ago, my 4-year-old daughter made a statement that warmed my heart…”My daddy works for IBM, and My uncle works for HP..guess what, IBM is bigger than HP !”. My euphoria  didn’t last long – pretty soon I figured out that she didn’t have any grandiose ideas of comparing IBM with HP – all she meant was IBM has 3 letters, while HP has only 2. But that was enough in her mind to reach the conclusion that her daddy worked for the bigger company.

Then it dawned on me that I too make plenty of such conclusions – and probably a lot many others too. Human mind apparently likes simple answers – and as long as the simple answer is not disproved, we won’t go much farther to find another answer. Over the holidays, I got to catch up on a lot of reading , mostly on two topics very close to my heart – Dogs and Management. And on both topics – I can see plenty of examples of this.

I think that once  you are an expert on something – like say stock market, dog shows or horse racing –  you feel compelled to give an explanation for anything that happens in your field. Keeping quiet is apparently not an option.  Being logical or being fact based in your argument is not a necessary quality of such experts either.

Take dog shows – you will keep hearing that “this breed is no longer resembles the great dogs of a 100 years ago…and does not resemble the third sentence in the breed standard..” . Except – the standard was written by people who were no more smarter than the people who live and breed today. Also, while they created the breed, and knew the function the breed was supposed to do – those folks did not have the benefit of health and genetics studies that happened in last few years. So – we still hold on to a standard that was written a century ago and think god wrote it.  Also, over a period of time – context is lost. If a standard says ” the dog should look like a clever hunter” – how will the dude living in an apartment in NYC know what a clever hunter is? ..Same with eye color in some breeds..”darker the better” – although no one knows why darker eyes are better.  And it is easier to create a time machine than to revise a breed standard.

it is worser with business management – where there is always an explanation on why something has happened, and it is always after the fact – never ahead of time. When I was doing my MBA in the nineties, Cisco was the cult. Every one wanted to be like John Chambers. Cisco did everything right – I have lost count of the Harvard Case studies I have read on Cisco – from supply chain management, to mergers and acquisitions, to raising employee morale. Cisco could do no wrong. Every business magazine – business week, Fortune etc – wrote cover stories on Cisco every few months. And then tech bubble crashed, and Cisco went down. The pundits at these magazines  didn’t skip a heartbeat – they wrote cover stories immediately on how Cisco did everything wrong. How they never listened to customers, how they did Mergers in cowboy fashion, and so on. I don’t remember having seen “We were dead wrong about Cisco in our prior analysis” from any pundit.

The ecosystem in which we live constantly evolves – and possibly, there are no black and white answers to every question any more. But do we need this compulsive obsession to find a simple answer to every thing?  Einstein said something along the lines of “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler” . I think the man had a point.

The one field that hates simple answers that I know of is  horse racing – have you ever read that a horse failed just because he was slow? The horse failed because he didn’t like the surface he ran on, or because his jockey was no good, or because his trainer didn’t put him in the right race – but never because he was simply  slow !!

Maybe there is a middle ground between where the management gurus stand and where the horse racing pundits stand – but then, how would I know – I am no expert.

Stop making new year resolutions

Like every one else I know, and don’t know, I have had my fair share of new year resolutions over the years – but looking back – I DO NOT REMEMBER EVEN ONE such resolution in any great detail.  I also DO NOT REMEMBER even one time when I cried “Eureka, I made good on my new year resolution”.So what is with people (I am part of the “people” too? Why do we keep doing it?

There are a bunch of reasons why I think it is a bad idea to begin with. Weight loss is, I suspect , every living and dead man’s and woman’s and animal’s  usual resolution come January the 1st.. So let us see how well this goes.

It is December 12th – and I start my vacation. I already know that my new year resolution is to lose a hundred pounds off me. But new year is 3 weeks away – so I don’t have to worry about it quite yet. So I could still have all the meat and rice and potatoes and cream and so on, and not feel bad about it. So by the time new year’s land – I am heavier by few more pounds, and have practically ensured that I will never make good on the resolution.

What the heck? I still make the resolution. I start paying a hundred bucks every month to the best gym in town – believing that if I am paying for it, I surely will be doing it. And I do start strong – I take the private lessons, I religiously do 30 mins of cardio and 30 mins of weights for four days a week and so on.  And the 100 bucks covers my wife (if we do it together, we should have higher chance of making it succesful) and child care for my kiddo. So I am set up for success.

This goes well for a few weeks…and then . Yes, you guessed it right – I still like rice and meat, and I still hate exercise. I go to the hotel gym to find the lone treadmill in use. Ah well..I could walk a mile and get the same exercise. Except I don’t want to walk – it is too hot, too cold, too windy, too dark – if only mother nature gave me a break. Not to despair – I go back home in a couple of days, and can always make up.

So there I am at the gym – only to learn that my body does not respond kindly when I switch to greater weights and longer times. So, I don’t push it – and by february – I go to the gym twice a month, but still pay them a hundred bucks every month.

Oh but stop – you have to cut down on your food too. You have to take a holistic ( who made this word? it rings true with hole…not Whole..) view to weight loss, according to the Rambo like guy on TV who inspired me. You also need special blenders to make you healthy smoothies.

I can buy that – it is pretty logical. So I measure calories on every darn edible thing I dare to even look at. I stick to portion control religiously – to the extent that I dread lunch and dinner time.  Lets cut the miserable story short – you guessed right again, it does not work. I fall back to larger portions of the stuff i like.

As part of the weight loss campaign – I also bought a new weighing scale. And every week on Saturdays, I weigh myself and write it down. This is a very depressing way of starting my weekend most times. occasionally, it brings a smile to me – when I have lost 2 pounds. Although my head says that it is because I didn’t have much fluids on friday – my heart makes me believe that it is because of 10 minutes of extra cycling I did at the Gym.

Weight loss resolution at new year’s time is just an example of such bad ideas – weight loss by best friend’s marriage, training puppy to make it a canine good citizen in 3 weeks, running boston marathon next year – so on and so forth, are all in the same boat.

I have some theories about this, and  I am going to try these for myself.

1. Aim small – Miss small : You can probably lose 1 pound a week for next 3 weeks. But this is not a scalable goal – so do this 3 week thing and reset your goal, rather than aiming for 50 pounds in a year.

2. Our strengths are in different areas. The gal who cannot lose enough weight to run the Boston Marathon, might have sufficient strength to get through college in the next year or two. Find out what your strength is – and achieve that goal. Success breeds success – so if you are succesful in something you are good at, then you can use that adrenalin rush to help you with succeeding in something that you are not all that good at.

3. Variety is the spice of life – so do a variety of things in life. This is the hardest to do. We all have an inertia to stay with status quo. Try to get over it, and try something new – cook something new, walk a trail you have not tried before or teach your dog a new trick. And don’t worry about success – this is just to break the monotony of daily life. Success is just having the ability to try. I am particularly bad at this – so this is something I am seriously going to challenge myself .

So let’s do ourselves a favor – and make a new year resolution that “We won’t make any new year resolution”  !

Do you live to eat or eat to live?

Those who know me well, surely know the answer to this – and knowing most of the “those who know me” and others, I know that I don’t stand-alone in my conviction.

Now, most of us who live to eat, do not live “only” to eat – we do other things too. Just that we love good food, and gluttony is a virtue in our holy book.

Like everything else in life, we can categorize the “live to eat” people into a few types.

1. Those who live to eat a specific item

For me – it is rice. I need rice like I need oxygen. If I don’t get some rice every day, I cease to be me. I have paid 50 Euros in Germany to get a cab to go eat some rice at a restaurant, where the meal costed me 10 Euros.  Although I have a marked preference for Indian food, I love rice in all forms. I love Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, pretty much any form of rice.

Same goes for drinks – If it is warm – 90% of the time, I will order a Mojito. If it is cold – 90% of the time, i stick to a Bloody Mary. If I have to drive, I have just a bloody mary mix – which can also be called a bloody shame.

2. Those who live to enjoy a specific taste/flavor

For my wife – it is “anything” sweet. She can eat honey flavored cereal for 3 meals a day for several days a week. Her mom puts several spoons of sugar into her tea. If I bring home half a bag of European Chocolate, it will be gone in 2 days flat.

3. Those who live to enjoy a specific cuisine

I am a road warrior due to my job as a consultant. restaurant food is what I have to it – whether I like it or not. While I have favorites in every place I have had to work, I try to mix it up. Specifically, despite my love for Indian food – there is hardly a week where I have eaten twice at an Indian eatery. But earlier this year – I was assigned to a gig in East Germany, in Dresden.  Dresden is a very touristy place – and has every cuisine you can think of. There are 5 Indian restaurants there. Over a period of 9 months, I would have spent about 3 months time there – and I ate Indian food almost every single day – most days for lunch and dinner, and usually at the same restaurant called Agra. 

When I think about it – why did I do that? The answer is “comfort”. We had a large team from India, most of whom were out of the country for the first time.  For them, Indian food was the closest to being back home. And although I live in USA, I am as much an Indian in my food habits as the next guy. So as a group – we flocked to this Indian restaurant.

There are two more reasons – one, apart from Indian restaurants, it is hard for Indians to find vegetarian food that they like.  And two, it was a stress buster to have a routine where every one went to this place every night and had a beer, or salt lassy and talked about everything that affected them that day.

4. Those who live to enjoy a variety of cuisines

This is the exact opposite of the above. I have a few friends who are open to try anything and everything – including  uncooked fish,  and monkey’s brains. They have favorite cuisines too, but generally they are driven by the need for variety.  And now that I think about it – all these friends are Europeans. Is it a European thing?

So, what about our brethren (should I add “and sistren”?)  who eat to live? For the rest of us – we don’t comprehend these people at all.  They also can be divided into some classifications…well heck, every thing can be classified into atleast two.

1. Health junkies

You know them – soymilk, half a splenda , “can I get more raw spinach for lunch?” types.  These guys make me want to ask them ” if you are doing this to lengthen your life, can you explain one more time why you want to live an extra year munching on spinach and lettuce?”.

2. Too busy to eat

Well – I do feel sorry for them. These people survive on granola bar and diet soda. Talking of diet soda – does any one know the difference between Coke Zero and Diet Coke?

3. Speedy Converts

Nothing to do with religion at all- these are folks who went too far down the “eat to live” path and want to swing the pendulum the opposite way in one sweep. From one pint of ice cream a day, they go to one granola bar a day. I feel bad for them – most of them get threatened by doctors and spouses – usually rightfully so – to change their diets to save their lives. It is a huge sacrifice. And there usually isn’t sufficient time to ease into it. If this happens to me – I will probably be convinced that I was a big sinner in my past life.

Striking is a happy medium is admittedly difficult – but I do believe that such a thing exists. How else would Atkins and Bowflex and all these other things survive for so long despite individuals giving up on it all the time? Or are we all suckers of the highest order?And why do I not see some one my size doing them in the TV ad, instead of a Rambo figure guy ? “Before and After” pictures don’t cut it for me – I refuse to believe them.

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