Seasons of War and Peace

We can always count on the seasons to change. Just like the day and night, winter always follows fall, summer always follows spring; for us here in The Great White North, summer cannot come soon enough after the winter we have just had.

After around March 21st we see daylight more than darkness, June 21st being the day with the longest duration of sunlight. On the flip-side, in near late September the darkness overpowers the sunlight and around December 21st darkness is at it’s peak. This pattern is recognized to be guaranteed. The abundant sunlight will never last forever, and even the darkest day will never reign.

 

(And because I just have to…)

#yinyang #nature is everywhere

A post shared by Ahmad Iqbal (@ahmiq) on

 

These same rules of nature also apply to all things within it. Individuals, civilizations, businesses, etc.

The Hero’s Journey, coined by Joseph Campbell, is the perfect formula to help conceptualize this idea for ourselves as human beings. We all go through ups and downs because life is changing and evolving. New “missions” and obstacles come up every day and we may have dozens if not hundreds of journey’s happening at any one time, some more significant than others. And as long as one continues to “live” the unknown world will eventually become known and internalized. Every main character in any popular story ever told follows this formula. Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Katniss Everdeen, even Homer Simpson in every episode. I believe we love these characters because they fit nature’s formula.

 

With regards to civilizations and nations, the macrocosm of individuals, we also see ups and downs. Civilizations and ways of life also breathe as shown in the graph of the history of balance of power. The United States was at i’s peak “peacetime” state, an obvious “summertime” and growth state, around 1950. China was at it’s lowest; struggling and stuck in a wintertime state. But nature’s change eventually prevails and balances are shifted.

The same is also true for businesses. I read somewhere the average life expectancy of a company (probably around the 1950s) used to be 60 years. A decade or so ago that number was around 25 years. Currently it is at around 15 years, and contracting still. In this case not only is the environment changing, but the speed of change is also changing. In Ben Horowitz’s book, “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” he talks about his views on Google’s decision to change their CEO in 2011. Eric Schmidt had led Google to be one of the most powerful companies in the world, taking over essentially when they were still relatively unknown startup about to go through an IPO. After 10 years, Larry Page, the co-founder, steps in to take over. Why would the board decide to change leadership when the CEO had a proven track record of growth? Ben Horowitz argues because the environment for Google was changing to be more of a Wartime landscape with the rise of Facebook, Apple, Twitter and the 2nd renaissance of Tech. Eric Schmidt was a great Peacetime CEO, someone who could leverage the Summer and keep things growing. But Larry Page is a Wartime CEO, pragmatic and focused on re-building and investing for the future.

What I mean to share with this post is that these patterns exist everywhere. We are all parts of a greater whole, and the seasons are a reminder for us. For those of us who complain about the winters (however cold they are), think of it as a reminder of our our journey. And for those that love the summer, don’t get too comfortable because nature won’t let it stay that way forever.

How to Slow Time

Do you remember as a child when the summers seemed to last forever? When I think back to my elementary school days I can swear it seemed like the school year wouldn’t end. Why?

I believe it has to do with our age. As a 10 year old, one year is 10% of our life. It makes up for 10% of everything we know of the universe, or reality, and everything in our being. But as a 20 year old, that same year is only 5% of our life. Meaning it should feel like it goes by twice as fast, all else being equal. In an inverse example, as a 30 year old, a summer last approximately 3 months. But to a 10 year old, it would be the equivalent to a 9 month vacation! I think this is why kids find it easy to get lazy, thinking they have all the time in the world to finish their work and chores – all the time in the world to accomplish their goals. In a final, extreme example, taking a look at a 1 year old baby – that 1 year is the equivalent of a lifetime. Each day blowing his/her mind with realities and truths of the universe.

 

With this realization comes unease. It means the older we get (the less time we have left), the faster time will go by. The less youthful, energetic, and curious we become, the less time we have to accomplish our life purpose. So how can we break this down to find a solution?

Let’s start by understanding that the youth have much more opportunity for (A) Learning; (B) Experiences; and (C) Exploration. Each of these three things adds more dimension to their understanding of the universe. Each of these things adds a net new value to their being. There is Growth.

To apply this to our question, it would seem the solution is to always be learning new things, experiencing new things, and exploring new places. Always be growing.

If we’re not growing, we’re dying, both literally and metaphorically.

Sara: Hacking a Hackathon

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www.saratells.info

Sara was a project a few friends and I decided to hack on for a weekend in September (Haani, Sumit, Zeeshan and myself). The feedback was great and we learned a lot. We took first place at the hackathon in Toronto (out of 25 teams), and then 3rd place at the Global Judging at MIT (out of several hundred). Here are four tips we discovered for “hacking the hackathon.”


1) Try to solve a Really Big Problem

The bigger the problem, the more likely you will have the attention of the judges and audience. With Sara, we were trying to solve the problem of internet access for five billion people. Identifying a big problem is easier said than done, but it’s important to focus on the steps to take to get there:  Pivots. Which is the 2nd tip…

2) Pivot

Pivots turn into steps. Hacakthons don’t usually last longer than 2-3 days so these have to be made extremely fast. Before landing on the idea of Sara we were brainstorming “Kasaan,” which means farmer in Urdu. Our idea was to build a simple Android app that would give real-time local commodity and produce prices to local farmers so they would know the true price of their goods. We read about many horror stories of farmers being ripped off by brokers and middlemen who benefited from asymmetric information. However good of an idea we thought we had, a quick Google search into the smartphone penetration in the sub-continent showed abysmal figures. Not only that but we discovered even those with smartphones did not have access to data connection. From there we pivoted to providing pricing data via SMS – which subsequently got us to thinking “why not just add a bunch of integrations to other search engines and web directories?” This is how we pivoted our way onto a “bigger problem.”

3) Try to go last if you can

This is an odd one. We did not do this intentionally, rather this was an accidental discovery. When you have so many teams competing (and usually hackathons have a specific cause or purpose) there could be an overlap of your idea with other teams. If the problem is a big one, your solution may umbrella other problems being pursued by other teams. We found there were several teams that decided to leverage the SMS medium to broadcast or distribute relevant information to rural users. This only validating our value proposition. Not only that but we were also able to position Sara as platform for other 3rd party search engines and directories to integrate with. We believe being one of the last teams to pitch made our service more top of mind than the others.

Most importantly, 3) Hustle to be memorable

We learned the underlying objective of any qualitative competition is to be memorable. With competitions like sports games or races, there is a definitive qualitative measure of success; but with a competition on who has the best idea, it’s a completely different game. Our strategy from the get go was to be memorable. We knew we had to stand out because judging can be influenced by so many tiny foreseeable forces. The tactic we used to stand out was getting application into the hands of everyone in the audience, including the judges, at the same time, during the pitch. This was probably just as time consuming as building the application itself. While our team of wizards were knee high in code during the weekend, I was making the rounds, introducing myself and offering product help to other teams in the space. I used this time to introduce (briefly) our idea and ask for their phone numbers in order for them to help us test and better our service (this was the original sentiment). Getting the phone numbers of the judges was the most important, but also harder. A few weird looks from the staff and volunteers shouldn’t deter you; the judges were happy to help. Once we had all the phone numbers, Sumit programmed a quick script which would blast a greeting from Sara to everyone on the list, encouraging them to ask her any question. The timing of this blast was of critical importance – we did it right at the end of our pitch, applying the proverb: Strike While the Iron is Hot.