6 ways to improve listening

In a world filled with cacophony and sounds of multiple types, listening is becoming more and more sparse. The advent of technology and increasing domination of technology gadgets in our daily lives, conversations have fast approached their untimely death. Within homes, people are interacting less with each other and spending more time watching TV or reading social media posts on their personal mobile phones or tablets. This is truly a connected world with disconnected people.


An obvious casualty of this limited one to one interactions is the ability to listen or in other words, listening skills. Lack of listening skills is leading to more and more gaps and distances. These distances are filled with confusion and chaos. We are building a sparsely connected world where opinions and judgments are made with partial listening – so partial information. Compound with the inherent nature of human beings to do stereotyping, we are leading to more angst and more hatred in the society.

The growing number of road rage cases are just one indication of growing angst in the society and how the sense of community if getting lost.

Three separate research articles spanning over 60 years suggest listening has not evolved as much as it should. In the first article dated 1957, the research points to the need for active listening and how it is causing loss of the high amount of business dollars.

Read more about it here.

The second article demonstrates the same problem still persists. There is still significant productivity loss due to lack of active listening.

Read more about it here.

The third article talks about the things that great listeners do and emphasizes the lacks of active listeners.

Read more about it here.

60 years have gone by emphasizing the importance of this significant skill and lack of its adoption in the world, in general. The significant loss underscores the need – especially in the context of being better business owners, managers, and better human beings.

So what can one do to improve their listening skills?

Julian Treasure has spent a significant amount of his life researching on the skill of listening. He has spent years researching the subject and has identified 5 ways on how we can improve our listening. Here are his 5 popular ways –

  1. 3 MINUTES OF SILENCE – Julian advocates practicing 3 minutes of silence every day.  With this, he says that people can be better at understanding the sounds in the environment they are operating. This helps to become an active practitioner of the art of listening and improves cognitive skills significantly.
  2. Next, he suggests understanding the MIXER. This is basically a habit of trying to identifying the different sounds in a noisy place.
  3. He further encourages people to SAVOUR the sounds in their surroundings and enjoying those sounds while relating to something familiar.
  4. Then one needs to determine the different types of LISTENING POSITIONS that are possible for them to actively participate in a conversation through listening. Following are the filters that he suggests to apply in the sounds –
    • Active Vs. Passive
    • Reductive Vs. Expansive
    • Empathetic Vs. Critical
  5. Finally, he relies on the RASA, meaning juice or essence in Sanskrit. This is expanded as below –
    • RECEIVE – Pay attention others
    • APPRECIATE – via little sounds like mm, hmmm
    • ASK

With these Julian concludes that one can become a much more active listener and be effective in their realm of activity.

You can watch his Ted Video on ‘Listening of Sounds’ here.

The 6th way is to breathe in a rhythm, in tandem with the sound to focus on what is being said. 

It is important for us with the cacophony around us to become active listeners. Let’s start practicing these today itself.

You can listen to the related podcast at Soundcloud.

The Millennial Swimmer’s Body

Yami Gautam is a beautiful actress. She is fair, has sharp features and a lovely face. She has done some good cinema too with movies like Vicky Donor, Badlapur, Kaabil etc. She is also the face of Fair & Lovely Beauty Cream campaign.

Many girls see her advertisement for Fair & Lovely and buy the cream to be like Yami.

Similarly, IITs are holy grail for Engineering in India. Every year hundreds and thousands of aspirants appear in the examination to become successful. A select few hundreds make to the top institutes.

Both the above are examples of Swimmer’ Body Illusion as discovered by Nasser Taleb. Advertising of beauty products is done with people who are already good looking. Take example of Yami. She is made to look lesser pretty for the advertisement and with application of beauty product she looks to her normal self again. People, esp young girls, watching the advertisement believe that they can look like her and buy the product.

IITs, on the other hand, suffer acute shortage of good faculty at the institutes. This means that there will be plenty of courses that would be taught by mediocre or not that great professors. But still, students graduating from IITs are assumed to be the best Engineers in the country. This is because the selection through the tough and rigorous entrance examination ensures that only the best engineering minds make it to the institute. Consequently, the general engineer graduating from IIT is better engineer than others.

Susan Rapp, the daughter of Army Colonel Edward G. Rapp, competes in a swimming event at the 1984 Summer Olympics.

Many a times people look at others and start believing that they are better or equal to the ‘other’ and can beat them in what they are good that. In high octane, high competition societies like India, this is very visible. Reason- because there is so much to compare.

When children – marks are compared, when teenage – latest gadgetry in hand is compared, when adults – accumulation of wealth and assets is compared.

Consequently, there is a lot of herd movement to things. The mass makes things competitive and things go into scarcity very soon.

During the 1970s, people wanted to become an Engineer and take a government job. Why? Because there were a lot of Government enterprises that were being opened and everyone wanted a safe future.

During the late 90s and early 2000s, people wanted to get into Information Technology as invariably it was the path to the US.

Since 2015, we see a lot of startups coming up. Mushrooming and growing. Trying to change the world.

What happened in 1970s? We have engineering companies with not so great engineering talent as people soon realized that they had different skills.

What happened in 1990s? We had many engineers who may have done something else (and may be more meaningful) got into IT and are straddled in their paths not knowing where to go?

What is happening today? We have a lot of people building startups because others are doing it not knowing whether they have appetite for startups or not. Soon, we would have more debris at the bottom of the ocean.


The larger startups that are going to win and thrive are the ones that are attracting talent with strong reach out.Consequently, they are building an atmosphere of competitiveness internally. People push each other to grow and grow the company along – good strategy for any company on a high velocity path. Retaining that talent is the key challenge now!

It is crucial that one realizes their own limitations and then work towards the appropriate Swimmer’s Body Dilemma. Millennials need to understand this more to know as their lives are already on the swim lane to make the fastest lap.

Weekly #AI Digest: Cars, Heart & Movies

In a recent paper, published in the journal PLOS One, the researchers note that about half of all heart attacks and strokes occur in people who haven’t been flagged as “at risk.”

Medical Practitioners are planning to adopt AI to solve this problem. A recent study has demonstrated that with Machine Learning, algorithms can help to identify the potential patients with more precision than human doctors.

AI Predicts Heart Attacks and Strokes More Accurately Than Standard Doctor’s Method



Just as human diagnostics are drifting to AI, so are vehicle diagnostics.

Sound recognition company, Otosense, is partnering with automobile manufacturers to explore use cases to assess vehicle health and problems based on sound it is making.

Learn more here.

Also,  Ford Fusion ENERGI becomes the first car to come with Alexa installed in it.

Read more here.

And David Hasselhoff features in ‘Its No Game’… With all dialogues written by AI algorithm that calls itself Benjamin.

Context Matters: Survivorship Bias and Dislike Euphoria

‘I don’t want to work under an idiot.’ – Declared a close associate’s younger cousin who wanted to go for his own business and did not want to take up a job he got immediately after his engineering graduation.

The idiot he meant was his potential boss. Problem is the guy had never met him but judged the person. He was determined to start on his own. Start he did.


18 months later he started applying for jobs again. Apparently, he was ready to work under an idiot. Its not his fault.

The winner takes all, at least the eyeballs.

Any realm, any mode, any sphere we see – people get impressed, motivated and eulogize the successful. So much so, that they start believing that if the winner did it, then they can also do it. Its inspiring!

They start imitating the winner – be it individual, be it businesses, be it teams.

We get inspired by real life heroes who solve a problem we relate to.

We chase successful businesses, operating in industries we dont even understand.

We love teams, that demonstrate winning streak and are well marketed.

What we forget is that winner is not the true reflection of the reality. Winner is truly the survivor of the circumstances. We should pay more attention to the one’s who did not survive and perished in the process. They would have a heavier tale to tell. They would tell how the survivor survived as they were in the same sea as the survivor. They saw what happened. Survivor may have not even known what s/he or it was doing.

This is the Survivorship Bias*. 

Behind every successful company, there are 100s that did not have enough capital to survive, then there are 100s that had potential founders who could never muster courage to start.

But, being an entrepreneur is a sexy vocation these days.

Its important that we look at the other side. Ignore the survivors and look at the debris in the cemetery. Thats where the real picture is being painted.

Similarly, there is a ‘Dislike Euphoria’, especially in the social media. We ‘like’ the content that is worth to be disliked. Any story filled with hate or instigating with remorse get more ‘like’ as they have the most dislike element in them.

A politician loses a hard fought battle. Social media commentators berate him and get most likes for dislike.

An incident in a day like today that may have gone unnoticed goes viral when posted online with heavy dislike element in it. It gets maximum ‘likes’.

So much is the ‘Dislike Euphoria’ that it is becoming hard to differentiate fake from reality. Like online currencies are blurring the shadow lines between the real and the shadows of lie.

People post their suicide videos, women’s modesty is snatched in live videos, hooligans go at large in a regular discussion on live video. They get most liked for the dislikes.

While there is a drift in the society, its sliding down.

Facebook has a genuine human problem with its live videos.

Facebook is a strong epitome of Survivorship Bias with a 20 something pushing the boundaries of the society to make something so big, and has the Dislike Euphoria for all the wrong reasons.

Something must change now!

*Survivorship Bias context is carefully crafted from the book ‘The Art of Thinking Clearly’ by Rolf Dobelli.

Naming your Business? Here are 6 tips

I was recently asked by someone to suggest a name for their startup. This is not the first time that someone has approached me for this. I also often (not so often these days) see posts on social media from friends, families and acquaintances seeking name suggestions for their businesses.


Names are an important anatomical entity for anything. A name is an identity. It is the first conversational point – between people irrespective of whether they are customers, or employees or friends or anyone else.

Household names like Google, Uber, Starbucks, Facebook, Rin, Coke, TATA etc that have become part of everyday language and are an essential part of our lives. Of course, they have been pushed hard by some smart marketing but having a marketable name is the first step in the right direction.

On the other hand, there are business names that are regrettable to say the least as they shift focus from purpose to the quirky nature of these names. A simple Google search will give you some very interesting results:

  1. Rotten Wi-fi
  2. Bewakoof (In Hindi it means stupid) – No wonder this startup was bought by the now struggling e-commerce company Snapdeal.com.
  3. Fu King Chinese Restaurant
  4. Fat Ho Burgers (Translated to Get Fat Burgers)
  5. If you drive around your city in India, you may come across many such names B.Tech Chat Wala (An engineer selling snacks), Shoe Hospital (for a roadside cobbler), WhatsApp Snacks,  Please don’t say Theek-thaak (translated to Please dont say OK) and there are more

Shakespeare may disagree and roses may smell the same with another name but in business, telling name of the business is a defining moment for anybody. With the growing startup culture in countries like India, name could be a make or break for any further discussion with customers, investors, employees and vendors.

So what goes in a name? Below are some of the tips to consider while naming your business.

  1. Keep the name short and crisp – Distractions in the modern world have had a serious casualty in the attention span of people. People are usually mutli-tasking and rarely focused on what they have in front of them. To catch attention of such a busy mind, one needs to have a short and crisp name. Long and detailed names are most likely to go unregistered and unnoticed by the audience. Companies like Amazon, Google, Jio, Uber, Tinder etc understood this and kept the brand names short and crisp.
  2. Name should be relevant to business purpose – I get excited by companies that have their name telling me their story. Take example of some companies like
    • Netflix – One can easily make out that it is an internet business to watch your next movie flick
    • EBW (Express Bike Wash) – As simple and direct it can get. This company tells you that it is in the business of bike wash and one can expect quick response given that it is an ‘Express’.
    • ToysRus – The famous toy store chain is every kids delight. The name tells it all.
    • WebMd.com – It is the online doctor with an MD. You can find information of anything even remotely related to medicine here.
    • MapsofIndia – This tells that the visitor to this site can expect the maps from all over India here.
    • Now consider Government initiatives like Digital India, Skill India to name a few. These names clearly mark the purpose of the existence of these businesses and missions. A layman can understand what these businesses stand for.
    • Future Group, one of the largest retail groups in India, have adopted this approach in all its brands. They run stores general stores chain by the name of Big Bazaar, Electronics chain by the name of eZone, HomeTown for home furnishing and furniture – to name a few.
  3. Verb phrases in nature – Some businesses take the approach of naming themselves based on the verbs or actions that they expect their customers to do when they hear about them. Lets take an example of Flipkart. The company in clear intent tells its customers to flip their physical shopping cart and buy online from them.
  4. Names should be simple – I came across a couple of media agencies – Sokrati and Vezury. Frankly, it is very difficult for me personally to keep a clear recall of these brands and their purpose. Simply because they are just too lacking in purpose and unclear to common man that they are hard to remember.
  5. Keep them professional – There is a company by the name Web Chutney. Chutney is Hindi word for paste. In my days at a leading auto manufacturer in India, I used to interact with their staff and found them very professional and experts in their fields. However, every time I read their cards, I used to smirk reading at the name of the company. While it could be a good branding strategy to build a brand recall with such names but there are other ways to build professional business with professional names.
  6. Name for the right audience – If you are targeting global audience, the brand name needs to be global and non vernacular in nature. If your product or services are such that they are targeted to only a particular segment or customer type irrespective of geography then the name should be more personal to that group. For example, Infosys is a global name as they see the world as their market. However, Haldirams, the leading Indian snack company, sees only Indians and Indian diaspora as their target audience so they have a very localized name. Many a times translation from one language to another lead to disastrous meanings for well intended words and phrases. Here are some examples of straight translations that led to marketing discomfort for some of the big brands.

Names for business just as children last a lifetime. These names are registered and marketed entities and have lot of bearing in the marketplace. When you name your business, make sure that it is not something that you regret sooner or later. All the best with your journey to pursue your next big dream.

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Image Courtesy: https://creativemarket.com


Scale or not to scale

In current times, we see scaling as a fundamental criteria of success by many.

If you look around, you would see many businesses fumbling and then failing in their chase to scale new heights. Much more than before, people are trying to scale new professional heights, many a times compromising lot more than they should.

Some are successful in scaling. Most are not. For businesses, the fuel to scale is capital. Capital access is at an all time low for businesses. So scaling is easy, quick and doable now.

For individuals, scaling happens in skills, opportunities and professional growth. When businesses scale, individuals also gain new skills, they get new opportunities and they have professional growth.

However, the scale is being challenged and many a times leading sharp declines or businesses. Look around and you would see some key news items:

  1. Paytm walks out of Snapdeal Buyout talks
  2. Westinghouse goes bankrupt

Scale often gives a feeling of invincibility and rapid scaling at times is a poison pill to survival.

Then how come some businesses and so the individuals, scale and then sustain at a higher level. Its like a steep step-up to the next level and not just a scale up.

The differentiating element is ability to build trust. For businesses, building trust in their customers about their ability to deliver and for individuals, building trust in their immediate circles about their ability to execute.

So scale as much as you can but scale while winning trust of others.