Category: People

Corona Shorona

Popular social media arguments, and social circle arguments. I don’t want to get in unnecessary debates, but here’s a deconstruction of the flawed logic behind each of these.


Coronavirus is a hoax.
  • We all wish it was, but the number of people who have died due to this makes for the most heartbreaking evidence.
The media is lying.
  • The governments around the world would be happy to say that the Media is lying and this is not a big deal; because all politicians’ careers are at stake on trying to recover from the pandemic. Except for a few, none are doing so. Even if a politician is successful, they are at great risk of not surviving in their career.
Only 0.1% of the people die.
  • 0.1% of approximately 7.5 Billion (total world population) people is  7.5 Million people. That’s 3 to 6 times the number of deaths due to diseases like TB, Pneumonia (communicable diseases) and Cancer (non-communicable). While it is harder to get the communicable deadly diseases, it is because of general public acceptance that they are deadly. Seldom does one say: “It’s only TB, I’m gonna be fine.”
  • Death is a finality. What you don’t hear about the other 99.9% is as to how many of them suffer long term effects. Permanent loss of smell, chronic headaches, chronic fatigue, depression and insomnia. These life long effects can be just as devastating to one as mortality.
I don’t care, I’ll take my chances.
  • It isn’t you taking a chance. You are giving more chances to the virus to mutate. Mutation is rapid evolution of viruses to evolve into strains that can be more transmissible, more fatal or both. Every new person that gets the virus, gives a chance for it to evolve into something else. Your strength to the virus is irrelevant, it’s about not giving the virus a chance to become stronger.
Ivermectin or Remdesivir is a cure.
  • Yes, this may be so. This is no reason to don immortality shields though. While Tinidazole is a fair cure for dysentry, we don’t go about drinking sewage water just because we can defeat our ancestors. This is common sense because so much time has passed with us living with these things.
Masks are irrelevant.
  • So are clothes in warm tropical climates. Logically, there is no point to wear anything there. We still do it because we care about social norms. Social norms can be broken, and the worst thing to happen will be ridicule for us. Masks, even though you may think are irrelevant, give a sense of protection to a large percentage of population. There is some evidence that they work, and it is OK to disagree with it. In any case, do it for everyone else.
Vaccination is irrelevant or dangerous.
  • Your caution or suspicion is appreciated. If you are in this camp, it is unlikely you are reading this. If you are, remember that nobody has gotten Polio in the US in the last 25+ years. India had been polio free for last 6+ years. There were people  back in the 1950s advising against getting the Polio vaccination.
  • Polio vaccine was an inactivated virus, and for the 6-10 cases where it caused Polio, this was a risk being taken. Coronavirus vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna on the other hand CANNOT cause you to get COVID-19, since these don’t have the virus. Hence, the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines are way safer. So are others, with the benefits far far outweighing the risk.
  • Third argument; if we don’t have enough people vaccinated, the virus mutates and spreads in ways that we cannot defeat it. This argument only holds if you believe that vaccines work. If you don’t believe so, read the first bullet above again.
I need to travel.
I am tired of being stuck.
I will be careful.
  • The only reason that new virus strains are traveling around the world is because people need to go on a vacation. Your need to travel pleases you but ends up hurting everyone else and their chances to do even the most basic and urgent things in life (like travel for a loved one’s passing away).
We are a closed group of people, we can meet indoors every weekend.
  • No arguments here, for a tightly closed group. All it takes is one person to lose caution and come in contact with someone outside, and out goes the undying trust you had. Bottom line, the virus now gets a chance to mutate. Thank you for contributing your part in the possible destruction of humanity.

All of this said, I empathize with the mental trauma of people who have been socially isolated and cannot live without seeing other people. Just take the vaccine, or if you get infected, stay home.

To the 80%+ of the rest of the world who have observed strict guidelines, you have restored my faith in humanity. Thank you.

Generational Generalization

Categorizing and bucketing people to make statements such as:

  • Baby boomers are…
  • Gen X always…
  • Millennials will never…
  • Gen Z will always…

…is called generalization. This is what we do when we immediately appropriate a singular behavior to over millions of people.

Flawed Logic: At the core of tagging generations with a certain attribute, there is an inherent logical flaw. Before exploring the flaw, here’s a background premise first.

Premise: Even though it may seem that a person always has the same behaviors, this is seldom true. People go through complex patterns in life. Often, people’s behavioral patterns change over time where you may not be the same person you were ten years ago. Personally, I have undergone a change over the last ten years, as I read old personal logs. A good way to check how you have changed is to catch up with a friend from 10 or 15 years ago.

The Flaw: The logical flaw is demonstrated henceforth. If at least 50% of the population undergoes a behavioral change in the next  ten years, then Gen Z will now split into Gen Z and Gen Z.1. If this continues over the next fifty years, we will have approximately ten generational behavioral patterns for Gen Z alone (or, ten sub-generations of Gen Z). By that logic, older generations (Baby Boomers, Gen X) are probably split into 15-20 of their sub-generations already by now. Hence, do the  tags from ten years ago for Baby Boomers or Gen X apply to that entire generation?

Possible Explanations: In most cases, when you see a behavioral pattern, it probably is due to a certain point-in-time condition: a market behavior, economic condition, choice of options, political scenario, environmental scenario or, a unique global phenomenon. It may have nothing to do with the people, but with their experiences of the environment and the peculiar condition affecting it.

There is one effect that comes very close to tying a behavior to a group of people in same age-range: peer effect. Even peer effects tend to be localized in certain planes. Peer effects don’t have the gravity to become a larger global phenomenon with the same age-range folks empathizing with each other.

Moral: Don’t generalize. Especially generations of people. It is all good when it is fun and games, but it starts hurting people’s career or social prospects when this is taken seriously. Plus, generalization leads to poor decision making, in general.

Broken Talent

Have you ever come across people who teach you something every time you interact with them? It is rare to find such gems, but it requires a keen mind to find them, especially if they are not well known and don’t have the regular social achievements under their belt.

More often than not, I have come across such people who are underappreciated by the folks who are a part of their team, their family and very often, by their management. Not to say that every one of these folks are ignored, or everyone who is ignored is somehow in the category of exuding brilliance. Yet, I personally know many (had to mentally go through their faces), and possibly more if I put my mind to it. It pains me every time I think how much more they could achieve, give back to the society and how much further they could be in life than where I am.

These are individuals, capable of so much more, but untapped because they have not been given a focus, not given some feedback,  words of encouragement or some appreciation. This isn’t just a case of bad management, bad parenting, bad friendship, bad mentoring or even bad relationships. This is often because most people look at what shines. It takes extra effort to carve out a diamond, than to polish one. As it stands, there is only so much effort and energy to go around.

The effort is simple. Look for strengths, and look hard. Due to the complexity of the human brain, everyone has a set of unique strengths. Due to the simplistic (and extremely limited) understanding of the same human brain, we don’t naturally see the strengths play out in the limited ways that we have evolved to interact. Furthermore, even the vocabulary to express strengths of what individuals can do is limited.

Unfortunately, only those who are strong in the expression and limited interactions, are able to succeed in playing to their other strengths. To provide an analogy, let’s say that the general public can count up to three numbers: 1, 2 and 3. And they can count well. One person, is somehow good at counting from 15 to 20, but they stumble at going from 2 to 3. This person is now unable to interact with society, because there is a starter problem. Truth is that they are sharper and have extraordinary capabilities, just not in the initiation protocol. Finding such capabilities, when it takes an enormous effort to go from one to three, and with the possibility that they don’t even exist, is what keeps this talent untapped, these individuals unsuccessful and all of society behind.

There are many examples of accidental discovery of talent, the most fascinating one being that of Gillian Lynne (credits to Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk). She was 7 when her mother thought that something was wrong with her, when the doctor said, “Your daughter isn’t sick, she is a dancer.”

I doubt that anyone reading this will make  efforts for strangers or colleagues, but I hope they will at least strive to do so for their kids, and loved ones. If only we wouldn’t break talent at 1, 2 and 3.

Interviewing Right

There are countless online articles that get hits when someone is preparing to get interviewed: “10 things to keep in mind”, “10 don’ts while interviewing”, “How to interview well..”, and so on. This works well for the times we live in. You get people in the door for a typical 4-6 hour interview, they act nice and everyone tries to play by the rules.

What’s wrong here?

Interviewing is a tough skill. Think about the things that the interviewer is doing, within a 45-60 minute window:

  • assessing technical capabilities
  • assessing success potential
  • assessing seniority
  • assessing team work capabilities
  • assessing <insert buzzword here>

That is a lot to assess. Relevant signals from the candidate can get lost. Depending on the interviewer, they can become too critical or too positive and amplify signals that are one-offs for the candidate, or play down those that give more insight into a candidate’s nature.

Additionally, the clock. Less than an hour to go, and so much to discover in an interview. Possibly, more time is spent on the right car to buy (reviewing, comparing, discussing etc.), than on a likely co-worker.

Then again, not all interviewers will take extensive notes. This leads to lost information, and sometimes, to distorted memory about the candidate. A common trap to fall into is the gist-based memory and associative memory errors (see this article).

Interviewing skills get better with experience. Not being true for everyone, some are good at assessing others while others will just never be good at forming reliable opinions in small time windows. Since there is a learning curve here, it will have to unfortunately come at the cost of hiring misfires.

Given that interviewing is conducted by a panel, the idea rooted here is that judgments passed by a group are less likely to be at fault. Though, more senior or well-respected interviewers tend to dominate the jury.

Referrals by current employees, of past co-workers, is a popular hiring method. Referrals (mostly) get interviewed in the standard ways.  Yet, employee referrals have an added data point. This makes a  difference.

To summarize,

  • interviewees may not be themselves
  • too many skills / behaviors to assess
  • not enough time to appropriately assess
  • not enough record of the interviews conducted
  • interviewers gain experience at a cost
  • interview panels may be dominated by seniors
  • referrals get a bias

Avoidances

What follows is a list of some of my personal practices to avoid these problems.

Pre-interview notes on the candidate

  • Decipher the candidate’s resume, to highlight their strengths, !strengths and anything else of note to brief the interviewers prior to the interview. Your help with this will set the stage and prime interviewers’ experience with the candidate. It is important to get it right and not (bias it).
  • Job descriptions help, but often, the panel needs to be reminded of what exactly is it that you are looking for. Think outside the job description – personality traits, seniority levels (for real), specific personas (like someone with a customer oriented mindset, or someone who’d be more heads down).
  • Keep “referral” biases out, as much as possible. Instead, talk to the person who referred this candidate, and include notes in your pre-interview notes.

Develop focus areas for interviews

  • As a hiring manager, a lot of thought needs to go into the kind of person needed on the team for a position. Some times, when you are building a team, you need to create a few different personas.
  • Every interviewer gets a couple different focus areas. The tricky part is to match the focus area for the interviewer as well. I typically read through past interviews from these interviewers to determine what they naturally focus on.
  • Although interviewers give additional feedback, appreciate it, but remind them to “concentrate” on their areas
  • Keep them real. Write out focus areas for what the team is actually doing over 3-6 months, instead of asking for things that lead to optimizing the number of triangles within 5 overlapping circles.

Share focus areas with the candidate

  • Well, why  not? You want to earn the trust of the candidates so that they can be themselves.
  • What if they make up things? If someone can make up a fantasy about an architecture that they never worked on, or only read about, and explain it well, you probably want someone like that.
  • Won’t everyone just know what we ask? Every interviewer would have their own set of problems and will be discussing very different scenarios. The idea is to make the candidate comfortable and forthcoming.

Make note-taking easy

  • I’ve printed out focus areas in the past, on paper, and given a page of blank space that has multiple of following markers (to interviewers) under each focus area:
    • Asked – what the interviewer asked. 
    • Response –  what the candidate talked about.
    • Analysis – refers to notes that the interviewer is encouraged to write out their analysis for the asked/response pair (under that focus area).
  • Interviewers should be encouraged to go back and fill in the analysis after the interview is complete so that they can fill out as much information as they can before their cache expires.

Keep information flowing

  • Most importantly, during the interview. Having brief discussions while the interview is in progress with the interviewers, helps to adjust focus areas. Additional context is added for incoming interviewers to re-evaulate certain areas. Orchestrating the feedback so that it flows to and fro, helps.
  • The slight downside to this is that bias from earlier interviewers can flow to and fro too. Conscientious effort is required to avoid this.

 Post-interview debrief and go/no-go

  • Many organizations have a central committee that decides the outcome. This committee’s judgment is only as good as the feedback captured, the hiring manager’s overall note and the focus on what you need for the position v/s what the candidate has to offer.
  • Sitting down with all the interviewers for a brief amount of time and discussing everything with the panel is very important. It highlights the panel’s own performance, along with the interviewee’s.

Other Problems

Reading through interview reviews on sites like glassdoor, I’ve often seen many other problems that interviewees bring up. Common themes are, interviewers that…

  • …aren’t empathetic
  • …dominate airtime
  • …don’t give enough context
  • …lean into the candidates
  • …never smile & keep things tense

My approach is to find the best way on how to use such personalities (with these unique qualities), such that the interview process is not affected. Often, it means, not using them.

Final Note

After a few cycles of doing this rigorously, this was easier (mostly cloning prepared documents for ongoing interviews). In the beginning, I had detailed focus areas . Later on, I would compress the focus areas to be brief.

There is a lot that can be improved, and I’ve not yet seen all the pitfalls. There’s a possibility that some of the techniques above have serious downsides, but this has worked better than anything else thus far. Well, there’s definitely a better way…

This is all good “for the times we live in.” Interviewing today, is still constrained in a short time window that an interview is conducted in. The future of interviewing will probably not look like any of this. Take home assignments, short projects lasting 1-2 days, contractual work leading to permanent roles and may be even (crazy idea) separate organizations acting as frontiers for people who could to try things out.

I’ve been surprised a couple of times on how certain people who were hired, turned out to be really good at what they did despite shaky panel feedback and an almost “no hire”. There are probably many more that were never interviewed, not hired due to process flaws or hired but weren’t the right fit. This has to change.

Sanity

About 20 or so years ago, I had the privilege of having a guest at our place. Amazingly enough, we would almost always have dinner on the dinner table, unlike how I’m used to with my kids (on the couch, bed, standing and sometimes, on the table meant for this exclusive function).

This guest was from a part of India, now known for its exceedingly high PM2.5 (particulate matter). The air pollution itself is responsible for lung and neural diseases. Add to that the fact that you have sewage seepage into drinking water pipes and we’re talking serious long term damage to the brain and lungs.

Cut: back to the guest at our dinner table. As is customary, you serve your guests (with generous portions of food), and acting the good boy, I started doing so. Taking the lid off of one of the bowls, I kept it facing down on the table. “WHAT are you doing?” said the person, very perplexed and a bit chidingly. Looking confused, I asked, “What am I doing wrong?” – as that was obviously the question instead. “Don’t put that lid facing down on the table, ‘germs’ will get back into the ‘daal’ from the table when you re-lid it.”

This was a lesson that I haven’t unlearned since. The transfer of biological hazard from a dining table that looks clean, but really isn’t – through a lid’s internal surface. It made total sense. My father did laugh in a way that made me think that he disagreed with the phenomenon, but didn’t want to argue unnecessarily.

Many many years on, an offspring of this guest was infected with Typhoid. If you don’t know, the only reason you can get Typhoid, is when you have consumed human fecal matter. The only sane way for that to happen, is through contaminated food or water. The only places with the highest reported typhoid cases in the world, are Africa and India. Note, “reported.”

As I was reading an article on Delhi’s PM2.5 levels (close to 1000 now), and the mention of contaminated drinking water, I realized something.

People often obsess over things they’ve been brought up with. There is a lot more to be obsessed about, but the key learning for me and my kids is to constantly evaluate your obsessions. This guest’s freak out, made a lot more sense in 1970s may be, but there are way more things to worry about in 1996 – and the perspective changes even further, in 2015.

The last place to get bacteria in your food is from the dining table. FWIW, those bacteria are probably going to help strengthen your immunity. Worry about the lavatory more, or, if you’re in Delhi, about the sewage pipe running next to your water supply. Welcome to sanity.

The Hero from Madurai

It’s unfortunate that people sleep hungry and even more that I (and possibly you) know that. Few change the aforesaid statement – and only fewer succeed. Narayanan Krishnan is one of the fewest people alive that put other people’s misfortunes to shame. Please vote for him on CNN Heroes and read about his extraordinary feat here.

Update: Anuradha Koirala was finally called out as the CNN Hero of the year; she indeed deserved it though there’s no belittling of the efforts of every one else. Koirala fights sex trafficking in third world countries, something that requires a brave heart and tremendous efforts (you won’t ever find out what she’s going through).

PoliceWale

This interview on policewala.in is the harsh gust of reality and fate of Indian police personnel. Since this interview is in Hindi, here is a short summary (all credits due to the interviewers at policewala.in and Amitabh Thakur, IPS).

  • Mr. Thakur is of the opinion that the long standing convention of “thinking like criminals” has affected the police adversely, turning some of these men to be more dangerous than the criminals themselves
  • He observes that there are two corruption situations to be dealt with separately, one that are of the grievous and serious kind with deep rooted problems – and the other that are notorious and on the street
  • He observes how the police personnel are deprived of family life, living in harsh and mentally frustrating situations – and how all police men and women come to appreciate each other and develop a bond since they are victims of the same injury
  • Another very important thing brought up was the fact that lower ranks don’t have a career path towards higher positions – the sepoy to  inspector ranks are basically stagnant. This is the most serious issue with the system right now since it cuts off the most basic form of self-motivation.

Uncorners

I have come to believe, that life isn’t sweet as much as it in the unexpected corners. So let’s “uncorner” those things that get ignored just because they are not perfect. I mean, you can make every thing nice and square, but then what’s the fun?

So see this comment, and if you have a little more time, read the whole post (and the comments). I leave it to you to decide on when you want to stop laughing. No rules. No offenses either, just laugh and forward err, forget. ;)

This is some blog-ham, if you don’t mind. Heh.

Pizza Incident

Ok, this doesn’t have anything to do with Pizzas, but with a party I threw out in Pizza Hut a long while ago. Since I have changed a lot of bosses now, I am sure nobody remembers who this ex-boss really is (unless you come picking on me). Here it goes:

Me: Has been 25 minutes already, if they don’t come back with the order in another 5 minutes, we’ll get it free.
Ex-manager: I’m looking at that guy in white shirt, he’s the most useless guy not doing anything at all while these folks serve..
Me: Well, he’s the manager.
[laughter]
[choke] [choke]
[laughter]

Not to be politically correct, but this was really all in good humor. ;)