On Life, Death and Happiness

If I knew I was going to die tomorrow, who would I want to spend today with? Where I would I want to be today?

I don’t feel invincible any longer. I don’t feel like I have the rest of my life ahead of me. In fact, it’s like my best days are behind me. Half my life is done. I know I don’t have the choices I used to have — I can’t reinvent myself again, and I’m resigned to the fact that there are things I thought I could do that I will never do.

I don’t want to spend the rest of my life waiting to die. I don’t want to fill the next 36 years with the minutiae of a consumerist lifestyle. I don’t want to spend every month working to buy something — all the things I “should” own.

I want to feel alive. I want to be happy. I want to have purpose.

And when I die, I want to die satisfied that I lived till the very last moment. On my own terms. Bearing the consequences of my actions and choices.

Remembering Diptosh

He didn’t hire me. I ended up with him because I got hired but nobody seemed to know where I fit. It wasn’t the organization’s fault — I wasn’t the fluffy, soft-features sort, I didn’t have the beat experience of a hard-nosed reporter, and I was too experienced (old at 25?) to be on the city desk.

From the day I joined journalism in July 2001 I had been a particular kind of editor’s dream. I was a good enough writer/storyteller that I could be parachuted in to pretty much any situation and be relied upon to come back with an interesting take — not just the facts, but also flavor. And I wrote with a certain flair.

In my first few weeks on the job, I covered an an event at a school, a speech by Lalu Prasad Yadav, and interviewed a former Indian ambassador for a light hearted column in the local edition of the Hindustan Times.

By the time I met Diptosh in 2005 at CNN-IBN, I had been lucky enough to find bosses who knew how to put me to good use on a daily basis. They helped me hone my writing skills. They had taught me how to spot THE story. How to persevere. I had been to Kashmir and Nepal. I was a regular member on big story, election and budget coverage teams, and often played the role of the person who stitches it all together. And I would churn out a front-page anchor story (usually about tech) frequently enough to be of value. I was the bright young sub-editor/writer. I was popular and full of myself — an affliction that doesn’t seem to go away :)

Diptosh, the wonderful human being that he was, taught me something very different. He taught me how to fail gracefully.

I am a small town kid with a chip on my shoulder and a need to prove myself. I know I’m intelligent and usually have an over-inflated sense of self. The first time my wife met me, she dismissed me almost immediately as an extraordinarily arrogant person.

Diptosh taught me how to let my guard down. How it was okay to ask for, and receive help. How it was good to surround myself with super-bright people, but also what it took to work with people whose intelligence isn’t immediately apparent. He taught me how not to be a feudal boss. He taught me how to spar with a smile. He taught me the value of the right question and the correct insight, not just in search of a story, but in the lives we live and the relationships we build. He taught me to see the best in others.

He taught me how to be a better human being, if only by seeing me as one.

I’m willing to bet that everyone whose life he touched has anecdotes they want to share, and moments they want to hold close. I have mine. He will be remembered.

Review: Rajdeep Sardesai’s Book On The Elections

An election that changed India – a cliche trotted out after every general election is doing the rounds again. It is perhaps more accurate to say that a profound change has been kickstarted by these election results. For the first time in Indian history a right wing government with an absolute majority has five, perhaps ten, years to drive their agenda. India has married the right. For better and for worse, in sickness and in health…

Rajdeep tells the fascinating story of the rise of the people who hold the fate of this country in their hands. He is honest and sincere. His opinions are balanced with a healthy dose of soul searching evident in what we read. It is an important story – no matter what your politics.

I should explicitly state my politics here: I am a middle of the road, wishy washy liberal on social issues and a centrist on economic issues (I support ease of business but don’t think we should abolish all elements of the welfare state and I support universal healthcare). Generally, I find it easy to agree with Rajdeep’s worldview.

I was surprised to find that this book makes me uncomfortable in parts – in his telling of the story of Modi and Rahul Gandhi (clearly not versus) one emerges as scarily able and the other as scarily incapable. He is fair to both, and hard on both. There is sympathy for both and a clear articulation of the expectations both have to live up to. Most importantly the book challenges and clarifies long held perspectives on Modi, his motivations and his ambitions.

In his analysis of both, he is harder on Gandhi – who he sees as a 9-to-5 politician who is disconnected and perhaps more worryingly disinterested. Modi needs a strong opposition to make sure he keeps working hard, and doing what’s right. It is the lack of an opposition today, and Rajdeep’s indictment of Rahul Gandhi as a weak, ineffectual leader that should serve as a wake up call for the Congress.

In many ways this book is also about Rajdeep and his journey. From the newsman at the Times of India to the first of the second generation of news entrepreneurs, to being amongst the first of those who exited the news channel he created. Unlike Raghav Bahl he never became a businessman. He was, and is, a newsman. Driven by a need to hold the powerful to a higher standard of probity and performance. And this increasingly in the face of charges of bias from both the left and the right. And that perhaps is his greatest challenge in the years ahead. Rajdeep likes being liked, and the next few years will require him to do his job in an increasingly hostile environment- ala New York 2014.

We need him and his ilk. The opposition is asleep, and when awake flailing about with no ideas and a tired vision of two Indias. At the India Economic Summit last week, the BJP ministers and big business were high fiving each other. The only notes of discord were struck by the WEF’s own global shapers and young global leaders who kept bringing up the notion of purpose driven organisations and sustainable development. And then there was Aruna Roy – forever tainted by her role in Sonia Gandhi’s National Advisory Council – who took on the dogma of the right with her characteristic flair. There was no sign of an alternate political discourse from anyone in the Congress.

Rajdeep is a democrat – who believes in elections, who respects (not reveres) elected leaders, and who is willing to ask the hard questions.

More importantly, this book shows he is willing to explore his own biases and prejudices.

And he’s never boring.

Disclaimer: I worked at CNN IBN between 2005 and 2007. I haven’t met him since.

Five Reasons Why Marketers Ignore Social Media At Their Own Peril

This was written for the DNA and appeared on Nov 3, 2014

Social Media isn’t just another channel. It’s a marker of human evolution. The impact of technology on us as a species is best seen in how our relationships, our attitudes, and our mores are changing. A“viral video” isn’t just a super-popular video; it’s a shared experience, an opportunity to re-enforce notions of self and identity. A like on a Facebook page isn’t just armchair activism; it’s validation — the largest driver of self-esteem.

The biggest challenge for us as marketers, employers, corporations, and societies, is to understand this new human being. This person whom many older people see as fickle, entitled, with no long term goals andplans, and with little respect for experience or institutions.

If you as a marketer are using social/digitalmedia for short- term gains: reach, fans, likes, and shares — you’re missing the forest for the trees, focusing on outputs, instead of outcomes.

Use it to test ideas and assumptions, not just gather data about everybody who “likes” your brand page, or follows you on a channel. Use it to build a narrative for your brand, not only for short-term campaigns that try and sell your latest and greatest product. Use it to understand this brave new world that’s already upon us, and not just think there are too many places for people to complain now.

The brands that understand this are already ahead of their competition. Without breaking non-disclosure/handshake agreements, I can safely say that some of the world’s largest brands are running projects to rebuild audience segmentation, category insights, product testing, go to market strategies, and customer loyalty programs. And that’s just the CMO.

It is not in the interest of the agency that makes all its margins of TV commercials to come to you with a digital firststrategy. You — the brand manager, the CMO, the CEO reading this article — has to drive that change. Or you will become irrelevant.

Ten Social, Digital, Mobile Commandments

Number One:
The CEO needs to be on Twitter. The CMO needs to be on Twitter. And they have to tweet everyday.

Number Two:
Stop thinking everybody has to love you. Deal with the hate, learn from the rants, and ignore the trolls.

Number Three:
Choose Instant Messaging groups over email. Everytime.

Number Four:
Be personal, but don’t get personal. Ever.

Number Five:
A press release isn’t a blog post. It isn’t a Facebook post. And it shouldn’t be the only tweet on the subject.

Number Six:
You have a camera on your phone. Use it. Images speak more than 140 characters.

Number Seven:
If you’re social when the going’s good, it’ll be easier to deal with a crisis.

Number Eight:
Don’t count followers and fans, build relationships.

Number Nine:
Talk about things you care about, not about the things you want people to care about.

Number Ten:
Have fun. Nobody wants to be social with a bore.

Note to Self: Two Open Source data projects I have to play with

Data is wealth. And I don’t like the idea of having all my data making other people wealthy. In my continuing quest (FreedomBox, ThinkUP) to track alternates to popular, commercial, offerings, here’s my latest list of things in the order I hope to play with when I find the time :)

Dropbox -> OwnCloud

I can’t live without Dropbox frankly. It is an awesome piece of software. The folks over OwnCloud have, what looks like, a decent offering. And besides files, it also supports syncing for bookmarks, contacts and calendars across devices.

YouTube/Flickr/Soundcloud -> MediaGoblin

MediaGoblin lets you host and share videos, music, and images and is a replacement for media-publishing services. I just bought a domain — nag.pics — that I thought I could use with this :)