A Year of Mindfulness Training

2 weeks ago, the Islamic new year started and I was thinking about whether I need to build any new habit in this new year. Normally, I am not a person who sets goals for habit changes only at the New Year, but I do it throughout the year. If I see a need for a change in any area of my life, I work on it immediately and over time, I have had hundreds of habit changes, some easy and some hard. Some have become permanent habits and some still require upkeep. As of now, I am actively tracking around 10 habits on a daily basis. But as I was reflecting, I realised that there is a mother-habit, if I can call it that way, that can make all other habit changes easy and it would also have the highest impact on me and the people around me – that is the habit of mindfulness. Continue reading

Real-life lessons from entrepreneurs – Part 1 from Arun Athiappan of Ticketgoose.com

I have been entrepreneur for 2 years and so far I have enjoyed the journey. Since I have started the company on my own, sometimes I feel a little lonely and often turn to family, friends and other wise men for advice on how to deal with some of the challenges of building a startup. One of the things that I have been thinking of recently is to interview successful entrepreneurs to learn some key lessons that they have learnt in their journey so that I can avoid that mistake. I have been planning to meet a very successful and very inspiring entrepreneur but it has not happened yet.

But I stumbled upon this speech that Arun, the co-founder and CEO of ticketgoose.com, gave at IIT-Chennai.

The speech was quite ordinary but I have found some great lessons in that speech. Hence, I forwarded a link to the video to my entire team at BIsquared Consulting. Then I thought ‘Why not share it with the readers of my blog?’.

Here are the key takeaways for me from this speech:

1. Engineer-turned-entrepreneurs are very poor at managing cash. I am very much like Arun, never treating money as a rare commodity which does not come by easily. Abundance was my mindset and to a large extent, it worked throughout my professional life and suddenly everything changed in a few months after I started my company.

But you don’t learn big lesssons easily in life. And definitely not by reading a book or watching a video. I learnt the importance of managing cash by making multiple mistakes which came back to haunt me. I hope that I am more careful with managing cash now 🙂 – this is a great lesson for any entrepreneur who is lured with the option of borrowing or getting equity money from others to bootstrap a business.

2. You have to focus on one thing – I got this right from the beginning in my entrepreneurial journey. Not because I was a great at focusing on one thing at a time. But because I have tried to do too many things in too many different roles/industries before starting my entrepreneurial journey, I have learnt that the key to success is focus. I often tell my colleagues/partners who propose exciting new ideas/markets: “I am keeping my monkey tightly strapped; why do you want to give my monkey an easy escape?”. I read about “Shiny object syndrome” a few weeks and it applied to me a lot and to a lot of entrepreneurs in general. So, it was another great lesson.

3. Arun talked about the importance of location. I am not sure whether I got this one right or not. The reason for me to incorporate in Geneva, Swiss was to work with NGOs a lot but now that I have set up an office in India as well serving customers around the world, I am not really sure whether I have gotten this right.

If you are an entrepreneur or planning a venture sometime or if you are in a startup, please watch the speech – you might find some relevant lessons for you there. If you find the video useful, please let me know through comments.

Want to save time? Here is how you can play Youtube videos faster

Many of us watch TED talks and other educational videos that take up good bit of our time. We can watch many of these videos at a slightly higher playback speed so that we can get through the content in less time. This feature existed in video players like VLC on Windows and MPX player on Mac. Hence, I download the videos to my computer to watch them at a faster pace to save time. But many of the Youtube videos can’t be downloaded easily. Hence, I was looking for a way to play Youtube videos faster and I was surprised to find that such an option is available by default now.

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Do you want to improve your communication? Then understand the curse of knowledge

You might wonder “What? The curse of knowledge? Did I read it right?”. Yes, you have read it right and we are not talking about knowledge as a blessing, but knowledge as a curse. This is a popular concept and an extremely effective tool to improve any aspect of your communication – writing, presenting to others, talking and even writing a simple email. Let me explain.

Please recall a situation in your life in which you were interacting with an expert in a field that you didn’t know much about. Did you understand the expert’s language? How did the expert make you feel? Let me talk about a situation that I have recently encountered. Before reading this story, it would be better if you know that I am engineer running an IT consulting startup.

I was talking to an accountant about some transactions that I have to do in my accounting software to comply with the Swiss regulations for filing my company’s financial statements in Geneva. He told me that I have to debit this account, and credit that account and blah…blah… and it went straight over my head. I said “What? What? Can you please repeat that slowly?”. He repeated it not once but multiple times.

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Reading Book: Start with Why?

It has been a long time since I have posted anything in this blog. Lot of things are going on in my life – managing the new startup, moving my family from Geneva, Swiss to India and setting up a new team in India. The blog has taken a backseat in the middle of all these changes. Once in a while, I think of something interesting to post on the blog, but never got around to doing it.

Around 2 weeks back, one of my clients has recommended me to take a look at a book called ‘Start with Why’ by Simon Sinek. There is a short TED talk here that explains the entire book in a nutshell. I watched that video and was hooked onto the idea and I bought the book. Now, I am reading the book and finding it to be quite insightful in a number of areas. In the coming days/weeks, I will share with you the ideas that I found useful in that book.

The crux of the book is this:

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French Courses I have taken – Part 2 of 1-Year Progress Report

In the first post in this series, I have talked about the goals I have set for myself and whether I have achieved them. Now, in this post, I will talk about all the French courses I have taken with brief comments about how helpful they have been for me. As of now, I am listing the courses – in the course of the next few days, I will add my commentary about each of these courses.

The top 2 courses which have been of tremendous help to me are

  • Michel Thomas French – I have completed all 3 courses – Total, Perfect and Master Class. This is the best value for my time and money of all the courses that I have looked at so far. Michel Thomas is a genius teacher and his methodology is a breath of fresh air in the market overcrowded with long-hours-of-learning-grammar approaches. There are 4 different aspects to learning a language – reading, listening, writing and speaking. I have written those 4 aspects in the increasing order of difficulty. Michael Thomas tackles the most difficult part right away from the first 5 minutes. He does not overwhelm you with lot of details, but builds up the details gradually. I am surprised at how much grammar he has managed to teach in around 12 hours of audio.

    There are a few disadvantages to the course like his French with a heavy Polish accent, the mistakes made by his students, and of course the high price tag. But all of these disadvantages pales in comparison to the tremendous value you get out of this. This would be my top recommendation if you are starting on French or struggling with French. Please click here for a more detailed review of Michel Thomas.

  • Assimil French with ease (first book in the Assimil series) – This is my next favourite. While Michel Thomas gives you a head start and gives you lot of confidence and speaking practice, he misses 2 other important aspects – Reading & Listening. You have to listen to lots of content by native speakers and you have to read a lot of content for your brain to get accustomed to French. There will come a point when your brain has gotten so used to French that it does not seem unnatural any more for you. But if you jump right into French content which is not devised for beginners, you might feel overwhelmed and might lose motivation, although there are some people out there who have managed to learn a new language this way just by immersion. But for the rest of us, Assimil is a great help.

    Assimil provides easy-to-digest and funny lessons which start off very simple, very easy and very slow talking style. The pace of talking and the complexity of lessons gradually increases and you reach native speaker pace in the last 10 lessons with really high levels of French. It is amazing what Assimil manages to achieve in such a short book. The vocabulary is extensive and the grammar becomes so much a part of you without you having to memorize anything by rote. All you have to do is stick to a routine and do 1 or 2 lessons every day – that means around 30 minutes to 1 hour. What is important here is not just reading and listening, but repeating aloud. Let me repeat it again so that it is not lost – Repeating the content aloud is the most beneficial and the most important part of learning with Assimil. Do not miss it!

Here are the other courses I have completed

  • Babbel.com (Stage 1 of the 1-year-long course consisting of 4 stages) – Babbel has lot of fanfare and this was the very first course I have started on and I was pleased with it in the first few days. But soon I realized that the approach is very traditional and you don’t learn a language like this – at least, I don’t learn a language this way. This could be an excellent supplement to another primary course like Michel Thomas or Assimil, but I would not recommend it as the first and the only course that you take. I have written a longer review on Babbel here about 1 year back and yet this is the most popular post in my blog. 
  • LiveMocha.com Active French (All 4 levels)
  • Live classes for 4 weeks conducted in my office

In addition to these courses, I have also done the following which are not necessarily courses, but these materials have helped me to improve my French

In addition to these, I have sampled a number of other courses, but did not pursue them fully – I have done a few lessons in most of these courses to allow me to evaluate whether they would work for me. Here is the list of courses I have looked that I can recall

Progress Report – 1 Year of French

It has been a year now since I have started to learn French seriously and it feels so good to realize how far I have come in this one year, given all the things I have heard about the difficulties of learning French as an English speaker. How many people have told me that it is a very difficult and a frustrating language to learn! But my experience with French has been totally opposite to these common perceptions: I found French quite easy to learn and quite enjoyable as well. I have found French language to be much more logical than English and I found it to be so similar to English in so many ways.

Before you write me off as a person with a language gene, let me tell you that I have tried to learn Hindi about 5 years back and failed miserably, even though I am an Indian and Hindi is similar to my mother tongue Tamil. What made the difference this time are 2 factors: excellent teachers/courses and an approach to study the language without making mastering the grammar as the primary goal.

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