How are changing behaviour is weakening our memory…


Our brain is simply adapting… is it for our good?

My fascination with the mysteries of the brain is nothing new… but my recent exposure to evolutionary psychology has added a new dimension to this study… I learnt that while human behaviour is definitely driven by our biological makeup, in recent history it is our environment, our social structure and changing tools that are influencing our evolution more rapidly. We are no longer waiting for our genes to mutate, but our constantly changing environments are pushing us to adapt quickly – often with radical implications.

It may sound farfetched, but here’s an example that we can all relate to. Google (and internet) has changed our approach to information – now with any-and-all information being just-a-click away, it seems pointless to try to remember the actual information – all that is needed is to know what-and-how to access the information, and it can easily be referred to when needed.

We are already living this new behavior… we are slowly collecting more links and references than facts and figures!

At least I am. I remember telling a friend recently that while I still remember all the nuances of early programming languages I coded in (including some of the assembly languages), I hardly recall even the basic syntax of any of the newer languages – because I don’t need to – and whenever I have had to write some code, I quickly look up a link and apply that as needed. It’s definitely different from how I worked earlier. Good or bad – I don’t know. It makes my life simpler today – and gives me more flexibility to operate in diverse environments, that too with relative ease.

If I stop and think, then I accept that I am fully cognizant of this change in my approach – and probably even consider it natural – to me it is as if we are adding external memory and expanding the capacity of our brain.

So it was quite a shock to learn that, however unknowingly, our changing behaviour has started to train our brain differently. For better or worse – I can’t say.

We are becoming more and more dependent on our recognition memory, or the ability to recognize previously encountered events, objects or people, and uses the stimuli as a reminder that the information has been seen before and provides a cue to access the information. As this information is being accessed externally (over the internet and other media), the other dimension of our memory – the recall memory – that looks up our long-term memory and retrieves the information from the past is slowing being relegated to the sidelines. The result is that our ability to remember and recall information (from our long term memory) is weakening day-by-day.

Our changing behaviour has already started to bring in a change in the functioning of the brain. Even though, today our brain still has the ability to remember and recall information – it is quite possible that over time humans may evolve to lose this capability. Or maybe I am just over reacting. But I for one do not like the idea of being dependent on machines – completely – and I think it is in our interest to slow down and nurture our ability to learn and remember

(and for that all that it requires is for us to realize that our brain tends to forget what it learns – and this forgetting curve is steepest in the first 24 hours – and the answer lies in spaced learning, i.e. learning and refreshing over increasing intervals of time, that helps us to learn quicker and better.)

This note is a page from my diary – UnLearning, which records all those random thoughts (ideas and fears…) that make me live day-by-day.

[This article was first published @LinkedIn on Feb 4, 2018.]


[Unlearning] Elevating the positives gives more value than eliminating the negatives…

Eliminating the negatives is what we are all good at… our focus is to create a complaint-free service… our energy is spent in filling the gaps, removing the nuances… but then we are rarely left with time to even aspire for the extraordinary?

elevate the positives

Inspired by Jamsetji Tata’s approach to lift up the best and the most gifted and not just prop up the weakest, I started to look for its application in business. I did not expect to find an immediate validation, but imagine my surprise (and excitement) when I found an interesting narrative in a book I was reading over Christmas (The Power of Moments by Chip Heath & Dan Heath).

In the book, the authors introduce a study undertaken with thousands of executives from consumer experience, which shows that on an average most companies spend 80% of their resources trying to improve the experience of severely unhappy customers. This is hardly surprising – after all when a customer has a satisfaction level of 5 or 6, they are reasonably happy and our natural response is to eliminate the worst customer problems and fix the issues of the unhappy customers who are at satisfaction levels 1 or 2.

The interesting aspect of the study was to map the data to a financial value of the customer. They referred to model on financial value of customer that has been developed by Forrester and suggests that the happiest people in the industry tend to spend more. The data from the model suggests that moving a customer from a satisfaction level of 4 to 7 generates more additional spending than moving from a level of 1 to 4. The results are illuminating – if you elevate the positives, you earn nine times more revenue than if you eliminate the negatives.

The thought on the table is to channelize the energy to nudge the neutrals (satisfaction levels 4-6) to positives (level 7 and above), rather than invest in moving the unhappy customers (satisfaction level 1-3) to neutral.

This maps to adding features and services that delight customers and to explicitly focus on creating such positive moments (there can be many definitions of positive moments but we can just start with the elements of elevation, insight, pride and connection that Chip & Dan introduce in their book).

Of-course I am not advocating abandoning the unhappy customers or ignoring basic problems – instead I am highlighting the need to reorient ourselves – to review our priorities, to move beyond fixing problems, to allow resources for building extraordinary experiences… I am simply reminding ourselves of the missed opportunity… the opportunity to create experiences that stays with us…

This note is a page from my diary – UnLearning, which records all those random thoughts (ideas and fears…) that make me live day-by-day.

[This article was first published @LinkedIn on 28 December, 2017.]

[Unlearning] When Social Entrepreneurship took a new meaning for me…


social entrepreneurship - new meaning

Early in the year, I read a book that chronicled the journey of the Tatas and while the many stories bring out practical business insights, I was particularly fascinated by Jamsetji Tata’s perspective on serving the interests of the country…

I have personally always been fascinated by what Jamsetji Tata (regarded by many as the father of Indian Industry) transpired to achieve (back in the 19th century, in 1868) and it’s amazing to see the disruptions he created… here we struggle to bring small changes whereas he opened up new worlds – in areas that were varied but still key to the growth of modern India – from industrial development (steal and hydro-electric power) to research (and technical education) to social welfare… he’s an inspiration… not just to lead in ideas and action but even more so to have the courage and conviction to take with you those who do not yet share your vision…

What stands out for me is his guiding principle that no success or achievement is worthwhile unless it serves the interests or needs of the country and its people… and the endeavour to create wealth for the nation! And it’s amazing to see how the foundation laid by Jamsetji Tata has stood the test of time and allowed the group to grow, maintaining its values and continuing to diversify to meet emerging India’s needs…

Everyone dreams of creating wealth for themselves but sustaining the passion to look beyond and striving to take the country forward is an inspiration… and Jamsetji’s journey is a reminder that one man’s vision can change not just a few lives, but a country!

As I started to accept that each one of us has the power to achieve more than we think, I was even more intrigued by Jamsetji’s approach to serving the needs of the country. His belief – that what advances a nation or a community is not so much to prop up its weakest and the most helpless members, but to lift up the best and the most gifted, so as to make them of the greatest service to the country – is so different from common thinking and most philanthropic initiatives of feeding the poor and healing the sick – and probably why he has left an indelible mark on India and its people – not just over a few years but across centuries.
This is a new way of looking at social entrepreneurship for me. While my passion has been to apply technology advancements for social impact – I cannot deny that my focus has been to look at selective pockets of social and economic change – and now it seems that I may be missing countless opportunities for a bigger impact.

I have something to think about as I start the new year – and as a first step maybe to evolve the infrastructure, services or ecosystems – not just to meet the basic needs of the moderate or the ordinary – but to relook from a different angle and extend the platforms with new capabilities to support the best and drive them towards their potential… yes, I really believe that this approach has far reaching possibilities – beyond social impact to also business impact!

This note is a page from my diary – UnLearning, which records all those random thoughts (ideas and fears…) that make me live day-by-day.

[Unlearning] Let the act become the destination…

let act be the destination

Earlier in the year I read Phil Knight’s ‘Shoe Dog: A memoir by the Creator of Nike’… it could not have been better timing for me… it inspired me to live the journey, to continue to believe in my dreams (and of-course believe in me!).

I have always been running after goals – one goal to the next and the next! In the rush to reach the destination, I have sometimes been irritated and often frustrated when faced with a challenge or just about any event that delays the goal – not just missing out on countless opportunities to explore but more simply the pure joy of doing what I started to…

Phil Knight’s journey that led to Nike may not be as well known as Steve Jobs story of Apple but it’s no less an inspiration… Shy, introvert, often insecure – Phil is far off from the bold dashing image of a typical entrepreneur… giving hope to many of us…

The memoir is surprisingly honest… he is so humble… underplays the successes and presents many choices to be accidental – be it the design of the iconic swoosh logo, coining of the name Nike (inspired from the Greek goddess Athena Nike thought to be the bringer of ‘nike’ or victory) or introduction of the innovative air technology…

An amazing story, it’s an honest reminder of what it takes to live your dream… to build a successful business – contrary to perceptions it’s no glamorous journey but years of endless struggles, terrifying risks, crushing setbacks and heartbreaking sacrifices… rewards are few and far from guaranteed… you realise the harsh reality that often just hard work and determination is not enough and luck may decide the outcome… you often wonder why you are doing it but despite all handicaps you still do (!) and its the act that becomes the destination… and it’s only faith – faith in yourself and faith in faith – that in the end matters!

For us who have grown up loving and admiring Nike, it is unimaginable to believe that a major part of the journey saw them living with the daily fear of failure… it makes it all the more admirable that they emerged into such a strong brand despite the humble beginnings and decades of struggles… but it’s a real example of the power of shared dreams… and what can be achieved if you keep going… if you don’t give up… if you live every moment of the journey fully… it’s a reminder to us all to live our dream, for the alternative is ‘not-to-live’!

This article is a page from my diary – UnLearning, which records all those random thoughts (ideas and fears…) that make me live day-by-day.