How to surround yourself with good people? Select Few, Avoid Many!

This year was very exciting for me. In the last 12 months I have lived in five cities across four different time zones, as I went on my mission to expand my company.This explains why I have been unable to blog as often as I wanted to! My company, uniRow Inc, now has people (employees, customers, partners) across 6 different timezones and three continents. We are still a modest team size, but one thing that glues us together is our strong belief in the company’s vision.

This post is not about my company’s growth. It is about how I have managed to stay efficient in this frantic activity by surrounding myself with good people. I followed a simple strategy – select few, avoid many!

Here is my definition of good people:

Individuals who help you grow positively through honest and often passionate conversations. They have clarity of thought and purpose in their lives, lead a healthy life and communicate without fear or malice.

While everybody understands the value of having good people in their lives, it can be challenging to control that as you speed through life and your job requires you to engage with people more. There is temptation to find company and the need to network constantly. Here are some guiding principles I follow to keep myself surrounded with great individuals – the key is to follow a mix of selection and elimination strategy!

Select Few: What to select?

1. Passion+Drive

I am a sucker for passionate people who are willing to put their money where their mouth is. Most entrepreneurs are passionate people who see the spark in their idea more than any one else and are willing to work hard enough to turn it into a fire. However, passion without action is meaningless. Be with people who believe in something significant and are living with the purpose to make that a reality. When you have surround yourself with them, your energy never wanes and you can build a great support system. If you can meet people from different walks of life (art, music, media, technology, whatever) it is even better. It opens up your own perspective on various things.

2. Knowledge

I enjoy being with people who have great knowledge of something. Someone else’s knowledge and experience can save you lot of trouble and minimize the trial-and-errors in life. Search for people who are successful. They can be scientists, musicians, technology geeks, business people, whatever. Learn from other people’s success and be inspired to chart your own. Their journeys will keep you motivated and more importantly it will help you see beyond yourself.

3. Honesty

Be with people who are honest – in their thoughts, expressions and actions. Identify people whose actions are consistent with their thoughts. Honest people can help you navigate difficult situations with better clarity and purpose. Having some honest opinion in your life can really help you grow better. I have been fortunate to have two great individuals, my sister and a dear friend, in my life who constantly help me with their honest analysis of life situations and difficult decisions I need to make. On the work side, my investors and advisors have been great people throughout my entrepreneurial journey.

Honesty is not just about doing your job right and not breaking rules – these are often fear induced. I am talking about honesty in your thoughts, behavior and staying true in circumstances when it is tempting to go the other way. Have some people around with whom you can can discuss things without any fear. It helps to dissect the situation at work or life better and continue to excel at whatever you do. More importantly be with people who follow this in their own life.

Avoid Many: What to eliminate?

1. Noise.

Not everything that happens around you is worth the attention. I was reading Austin Kleon’s book, Steal Like An Artist, and I love the way he puts it:

You are going to see a lot of stupid stuff out there and you’re going to feel like you need to correct it. One time I was up late on my laptop and my wife yelled at me, “Quit picking fights on Twitter and go make something!”

The moral of the story is – be careful what problems you pick and that will automatically filter out people. I used to debate with my friends on socio-political affairs. I enjoyed that because it helped me see different perspectives. But eventually it waned because it is not something that I could really add value to today. I noticed that as I eliminated the noisy discussions, it automatically limited my interactions with people meaningfully.

2. Chaos

Some people thrive in chaos. They like drama in their lives and enjoy living/working in chaotic situations. This is a tough kind because when you first meet them, they appear very capable of handling difficult situations and making their way through complexities. These are traits that every entrepreneur admires and respects. However once you observe these complexities closely, you will find that most of that is their own creation. They avoid owning up their decisions, continue to make poor ones and often find a scapegoat when things don’t work out. They focus on people’s imperfections and spread their chaos around. Identify them and recuse yourself from their company.

3. Skepticism

Entrepreneurs particularly need to stay clear of this group. While everybody understands the need to stay away from the naysayers, it is not trivial to separate genuine criticism from negative skepticism. I have a golden rule to do this – does the person sharing the criticism have enough background in the particular domain? Skeptics can often go into a hyperbole and it is important that entrepreneurs protect themselves from unhealthy skepticism. Have your own failures, so that one day you can make your own success.

As we step into the holiday season and welcome a new year, I hope you can sit back, sip cocoa (or a single malt) and enjoy all that you have achieved this year. Live, Love and Be Good! 🙂

Fourteen Things in 2014

Fourteen things I hope to witness this year.14

  1. Greater Participatory Politics
  2. Younger Politicians
  3. Better Weather
  4. Lesser Aid, Greater Development
  5. More Social Capitalism
  6. Cheaper Organic Food
  7. Longer Phone Battery Life
  8. Faster Internet
  9. Better Enterprise Apps
  10. Fewer Theoretical Developers
  11. Better Javascript Developers
  12. Deeper JVM Understanding
  13. More World Changing Engineers
  14. An Indian Technology Company Scaling by Selling to Indian Companies – I had to write this one, however impossible it seems! 🙂

Infectious Credibility and Idolization

There is a strange problem in India – we idolize. Idolization is not that bad, what makes it worse is a distorted mapping of credibility. Credibility becomes infectious and it seeps into areas which the person might not have any expertise in. We make them our universal idols who will solve all our problems and guide us to Shangri-La, the land of universal excellence.

Very recently Mr. Narayan Murthy, India’s entrepreneurial idol, made a claim that 80% of the IIT students are of poor quality (read here). I am not sure what data Mr. Murthy has, but I am surprised to see a man who has always believed in numbers, state a conjecture that will be difficult (read impossible) to prove. I am not too surprised or offended to hear Mr. Murthy’s comments and I have a simple “I don’t think so” response to it. I don’t care if Infosys is a body shop (read Chetan Bhagat’s response here) or is doing ground breaking R&D. What worries me more is that this statement is taken so seriously that we end up reading about his statement in all the newspapers and discussing it on Twitter and Facebook. Are we generalizing his entrepreneurial credibility into areas that may not be relevant? Continue reading

The death of world’s most wanted

Media has been reporting the death of Osama Bin Laden. He is said to have died in a fire-fight with CIA officials in Islamabad. Some things are interesting to note.

  1. Osama Bin Laden was killed in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. What was he doing in the capital city of a country that is an ally in US’s war on terror?
  2. The operation was carried out by a small team of CIA officials and there were no foreign officials involved. Did Pakistan consciously choose to stay away from this operation to “maintain” its relationship with the hardliners and extremists?
  3. The fact that this was a CIA-exclusive (and president Obama highlights this when he speaks), does some redeeming for the agency that failed to see 9/11 coming.
  4. President Obama has recently started his re-election campaign (Facebook townhall). This will be a big bonus as he gets on the campaign roads. The timing for this is also apt and American people will have this fresh in their minds when they go out to vote.
  5. This happened when the markets were closed. It will be interesting to see how the crude prices change once all markets are open. My guess, it would be mixed in fear of retaliation and potential volatile circumstances in the middle-east.