Friday, May 29, 2015

Top 12 Favorites - KPCB 2015 Internet Trends

One of the very few times where I look forward to the 100+ slide decks.. :)
The Annual Internet Trend Report from Mary Meeker (This is her 20th Annual report)  @ Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers - published yesterday.
Here are my Top 12 favorite slides from this year's.. (The complete deck has 197 slides -  )
1) Slide 8 - Impact of internet yet to hit these sectors - Education, Healthcare and Government/Regulation Policy;
2) Slide 10 – Smartphone subscription “growth rate” is slowing in most mature markets (US, Japan etc)
3) Slide 16 – We haven’t seen enough ads yet on Mobile
4) Slide 47 – Messaging still the Killer App Globally
5) Slide 85 – 400+ companies approved to operate drones in US - mostly "old economy" sectors
6) Slide 95 – Three regions with almost equal share of Global GDP - US, Europe, and China. This is adjusted for purchasing power parity.
7) Slide 97 – Gap between Goods-producing Jobs and Services jobs - continues to widen. Reminds me of the Alan Greenspan quote years ago on the "physical weight of US economy" getting lighter.
 8) Slide 109 – More Millennials than Boomers and Gen X in the workforce
9) Slide 120 – E-commerce barely at 10% of total retail sales in US .. what more is in store for the traditional retailers as this  trend continues ?
 10) Slide 126 – Freelancers are about 1/3rd of US Workforce
 11) Slide 133 – Online platforms  are becoming a reasonable source of earning income 
 12) Slide 167 – India often #1 or #2 for Global Internet leaders unlike (Korea, Japan, China - where home-grown varieties tend to flourish )

Monday, May 11, 2015

Journey of Life Series

From Miami..
Jamaican Cab driver who has been driving taxi for 35 years in Miami, hasn't visited Jamaica in last 16 years ever since his daughter was born here(His only teenage daughter turned vegetarian in last 4 years after watching animal cruelty videos)
Trying to find another field of work in the coming months..
Due to 40% customer drop in daily traffic and $150k drop in his license/medallion asset value.. in the post-Uber world
While Uber is currently illegal in Florida and he is likely to be impacted further if it becomes legal soon..
Wishes he had the foresight to sell his license a few months ago and pay off his mortgage before the $150K drop... now thinking of new career options...
And, he knew Uber was valued at $50 Billion.

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Guru Problem

  • Analysis of data on Hindu Institutions shows some individuals or institutions (The Guru) are better than others - to learn from.
  • Institutions that are more focused, and have a good succession planning are better likely to survive for generations.
  • The best individuals or institutions help us in teaching the ideas of Hinduism to maximize our full potential in life. The art of putting those teachings into practice solely depends on us.

Many of us can recall the amount of time we spend researching on a particular item or a service before we commit to buying it. Just think of the time we spend - reading reviews on Amazon drifting from one product to another, comparison shopping before we buy that flight ticket for our next destination, finding the amenities available at the hotel we are staying at just for the weekend, researching the career track of the kids before considering putting our own toddler in the neighborhood day care (OK…The last one may be a stretch). Yet, when it comes to selecting an individual or an institution that can influence the most valuable possession of our lives – our brain, we tend to skim the research and trust in the Gods of probability.

For those of us who are fortunate enough to have stumbled upon the spiritual path, the journey usually starts off with a friend or a flyer describing some workshop or a session over the weekend. It may also be due to a book or a blog referred by someone we trust. After attending a couple of sessions or skimming through a few chapters, if one is convinced enough of the benefits and would like to be around other followers of similar thought– the journey is likely to continue further.

For the serendipitous- That is how it is supposed to be. For the skeptical – the question is: Is there a better way? There is nothing wrong if the journey happens to be a pleasant one ... not only in the short term, but also for years to come. But what if, the Guru (either the institution or the individual) we plan to ride with in our journey of life – takes us for a ride? 

Is there a better way?
With the number of Gurus (both institutions and individuals) making headlines for the wrong reasons, despite having thousands, if not millions of followers - have we learnt enough to avoid the treacherous path in trusting our Gurus? Every religion has had and continues to have their share of issues from sex and violence to Terrorism- AsaramBapu or Nithyananda; The Church of Scientology; The Catholic priests ; Madrasas and Buddhists - all came into light for the wrong reasons.

I strongly believe that most followers of all religions (including genuine atheists in pursuit of maximizing their potential) go through the same quest of life. However, just because every religion failed in some of their leaders or institutions, we simply cannot urge everyone to turn into atheists - In other words, you cannot throw the baby with the bath water. Every one learns differently and some need Gurus more than others. Just like we all learn a skill or a trade differently- Some of us are tinkerers in our basements while some go to technical colleges, while a few start a business and learn along the way- there is room within the so-called “organized religion” domain for us to learn from.

So, the question is - Is there a better way to find our Guru (both the individual and the institution itself) in a more structured approach? Let’s look at what the data says. If you want to jump straight to the conclusion, skipping the detailed analysis - please go to the last section - Whom to follow.

Analysis of Hindu Institutions
I am going to limit the scope of my analysis to Hinduism, a school of thought that I am reasonably familiar with. The same approach can be extended to other schools of thought and any other religion or philosophy.

Hinduism doesn’t have a founder. It has a lot of proponents who have created numerous ideas and institutions. These proponents and their institutions focus on many of the core concepts and package them differently for different audiences. In the business parlance, if these institutions were offering products, some of the key product lines can be considered as Karma Yoga, Bhakthi Yoga, Raja Yoga, and Jnana Yoga; Some treat Hatha Yoga, and Kriya Yoga also as "product-line extensions".

This is akin to open-source software philosophy – which doesn’t necessarily have a true founder. Different people came together with the concepts over a period of time. Yet – institutions like Red Hat, SUN, and Google have all "profited" from Linux, Java and Android respectively and some survived better than others.  They all have concentrated on different product lines and sectors – Operating System, Programming Languages, Enterprise Applications, Educational content (Open Courseware, Wikipedia, Khan Academy) – Yet, all of them believe in the fundamental “philosophy or values” of open source.

Is it wrong ? (Individual vs. Institution vs. Ideology)
Sometimes there is a feeling that we are not supposed to question the institutions or their founders in the religious path.  A few would even go to the extreme of describing it as blasphemy. 

Questioning or analyzing the Hindu institutions is not tantamount to questioning the religion or the ideology itself. In fact, the core values of Vedanta encourage a strong individual analytical reasoning and thus we are following the true spirit of Hinduism. 

Survival of the institutions is simply dictated by market forces and organizational dynamics - How well they are run in the short term and how well they are positioned for the long run. All of these institutions are formed with a core purpose (just like start ups), many of them fail (with in the first generation), and a few succeed (for several decades or centuries). However, most of them espouse the values of Hinduism and offer the "same products" we discussed.

And institutions themselves are founded by individuals - all of whom will have to leave this material world in about 80 years. In the first few decades of a new institution, it is hard to differentiate the individual from the institution. Those founder individuals who are able to successfully articulate this differentiation enable the institution on a successful path for future generations.

And, regardless of whom we are relying on to teach us the ideas- the individual or the institution, we would have to personally put these ideas into practice and annihilate the other "I" - the Ego . And that is the lion's share of the work - that totally depends on ourselves alone.

The Data
Looking at the religious institutions that survived over the years, is there a pattern that helps us place our bet on the right institution or the Guru? There are about 60 institutions that I started with. It gives enough sample size to start the analysis. I gathered the following attributes for these institutions.

Who started this organization? How did it get started? Is it a “spin-off” from another organization of the same or similar philosophy? Is it a “split-up” from an institution with a common founder? 

I tend to think of founders of any system/institution (religious or otherwise) as rebels from existing systems/institutions. Those rebels who end up successful with their philosophy or institution get branded as founders. Those rebels who are not successful keep fighting the battle till their ideas are either decimated or become successful(in which case they become founders). For instance, Jesus who rebelled Judaism and Buddha who rebelled Hinduism were successful founders of their respective religions. Daniel Jones, would be considered more a rebel and not a founder because his concept of Jediism did not succeed.

Practically, many successful Hindu institutions claim the lineage of Adi Sankara. Swami Narayan is another common founder across many institutions of similar philosophy. Similarly, there are a couple of institutions that associate with Swami Vivekananda / Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.

How long have they been in place? Especially in their current institutional form?

For instance, the four original Sankara Matams have been in place for centuries in their current form. Sangh Parivar, for instance is known to have created many institutes (VHP, RSS, Samskrita Bharathi, Hindu Munnani etc.) over the last century.

Succession Planning
Chinese have a saying – Wealth never survives three generations; Even in English, there is a saying attributed to Andrew Carnegie - “From shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations”; If an institution survives for at least 60 to 75 years, the odds are high that it has solved the problem of "transfer of power or control" at least twice. For instance, If you are associated with institutions that have been time-tested, the chance of your relating with your grand-kids is higher on topics that emanate from these institutions. Other wise, they will be searching for their own institutions just like we are searching for institutions different from what appealed to our grand parents.

Questions to consider are: Who is the current head of the organization? Is it still being led by the founder generation? How many times have they been able to successfully transition power/leadership to the next in-charge? What is their philosophy of succession planning? Do they have a source of next -generation leaders ?

And, this is where lineage comes into question. If founders don't associate themselves with lineage (another Guru that they learnt from) - called as Guru parampara, how could we expect a successful transition of their own power/control to the next generation ? Do they intend to mean lineage starts with them? Or do they intend to run this as a single-generation organization? If so, do we still want to be associated with it?  

Having a source of next-generation leaders is likely to put some checks and balances into any institution. And, even if there is disagreement within the current institution, there is a possibility for some of them to spin-off another institution - which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Founders like Jaggi Vasudev (Isha Yoga) claim to not be associated with any lineage or teachings from within the religion. Sathya Sai Baba's organization struggles to find its place after the founder's death because there is no identified succession planning. 

Most people invoke Ramana Maharshi as an example of a realized person even without a Guru. He was one of those rare ascetics who also rejected being initiated into Sringeri Sharada Peetham - one of Adi Sankara's peetams and did not promote a lineage. There can always be some true exceptions. But, not every one is living the life of a Ramana Maharshi.

Core purpose
What is the core purpose of this organization? How many sectors/product lines - Jnana, karma, Raja yoga etc.. are they in ? Are they focused on single sector? Are they diversified into multiple sectors? (Philanthropy, Temples, Hospitals, Educational institutions etc.)? Are they growing too fast into multiple sectors?

Sathya Sai Organization is in diversified sectors. Chinmaya Mission or the Sankara Matam temples can be considered to be in fewer sectors – Jnana Yoga and Bhakthi Yoga respectively.

What is the order of magnitude for current followers of the institution? Are they in the hundreds, thousands, or millions?

Scale is a double-edged sword. Too few or too many are symptoms to watch out for. Scale is one of the dimensions for the viability of a successful idea. At the same time, one may not feel connected enough if there are too many followers- especially since Groupthink promotes network effect in these cases.

Some concepts never reach the scale though they may have been in place for a long time. Naga Sadhus (in Hinduism) and Amish (outside of Hinduism) come to mind in these cases as examples in this category. 

The Framework
The picture started to emerge after I mapped it along two dimensions.
On the horizontal axis – I used the dimension of time to represent the number of years these institutions have been in place. This data is relatively easy to obtain based on the year of their founding and what qualifies for a true institution. I used 75 years as a rough approximation to account for transfer of power/control over three generations - assuming the founder runs it for about 30 years and is able to do two transfers over the next 45 years.

On the vertical axis - There is a way to think of these institutions as having scaled or not. As mentioned earlier, scale is relative. For those that have scaled - are they in diversified sectors or are they focused in delivering their messages in a few areas? 

The 9 Regions

Region 1:
This is the group that hasn't scaled enough in the last 75 years. 

Most of us find our Gurus in extended family who pass on their wisdom, especially while we are growing up. Parents, Grand-parents, Uncles and aunts, and even siblings and friends - Their collective teachings are the foundation on which our experiences are built. Lucky are those with a solid foundation in this corner. With time, and at the appropriate time, each one of us will have to come out of this shell and experience wisdom from other institutions for wider applications of our life. Eknath Easwaran is one of those who found his Guru within the family -his grand mother as his spiritual teacher.

There are other genuine individuals whom I have heard of - Performing meditation in the Himalayas or some such place. Many of them like Tapovan Maharaj and Ramakrishna, who didn't scale by themselves, but enabled their students to scale.

It is also in this group that we are likely to hear of many individuals, who are smart enough for the common man, yet no where near a truly learned individual. Commander Selvam, who was recently put behind bars is an example from this category of people.

Since it is difficult to differentiate these individuals, unless one is on an active search for Guru oneself, it is generally better to find an institution after having learned enough from our extended family. Well run institutions have a better chance of "selecting" or "promoting" good individuals. In other words, for most of us - this is a good region to start with, that we would have to mature out of - at the appropriate time.

Regions 2 and 3:
These are institutions that have NOT been fully time tested and are in early stages. Some are first generational while a few are in second and third generation. These institutions are
- split/carved off from existing ones (AVG with Chinmaya roots, Sathya Sai off Shirdi Sai)
- started as a child institution off a parent umbrella (VHP off Sangh parivar)
-first generational founders with no lineage (Nityananda, Deepak Chopra, Isha, Asaram Bapu, Art of Living, etc.)

As the data reveals, there are not many institutions that stay diversified after the founder is gone. The only ones you see operating after 75 years are all those who constantly nurture a group of leaders.

Region 3:
Those that are diversified across multiple sectors usually have higher mass appeal and they are in Region 3. Leaders of this region, like Ram Rahim Singh of DSS - Dera Sacha Sauda have acted in movies. Either due to their innovative /unconventional techniques or due to focus in diversified sectors, this region is prone to more controversy than other regions.

I do not intend to say there is no room for founders. New ways of teaching are always good. But Innovation is different from sustainability. Data shows that many of these institutions in Region 3 wither away by the time they get to 3rd generation or die a premature death after the first generation founder passes away or get into trouble even while the first generational founder is in place.

Either way, it is important to understand the risk in relying upon first generational founders that have not yet ceded power/control at least once or have not even established a credible base/source of leaders for future generations. 

Region 2
Those that have a specific focus on a single purpose usually follow Jnana Yoga or Karma Yoga path. They are usually in Region 2. 

The really mature ones nurture a group of leaders preparing for a successful organizational transition for generations to come. Chinmaya Mission (2nd generation – 62 years) and Arsha Vidya Gurukulam (1st generation -34 years) are excellent examples of institutions in Region 2 that have a steady source of next generation leaders. 

Region 4:
Region 2 institutions that continue best practices for 75 to 150 years finally get to Region 4. These institutions were founded in the pre-independence eraIn addition to focusing on a few sectors very well, they have successfully transferred power/control for about a century. 

They have enough dedicated audience to keep them going, but are generally not as big as the diversified institutions. These institutions mainly face challenges in bridging the gap across multiple generations without losing their core purpose.

Brahma Kumaris (Sister Shivani for instance) and Ramakrishna Mission (Swami Sarvapriyananda for instance) are great examples of how they brought Vedanta into the campuses of IIT in India.

Region 5:  
These are the GEs(General Electrics) of religious institutions. Few succeed over the years staying together as a diversified business. BAPS is one example that came up in my data. Just like any institution with a diversified purpose – they cater to a wider audience. And, just like any institution is expected to have, they have had their shares of splits and mergers in the early years and have successfully overcome the initial hurdles. 

Regions 6 and 7:
Institutions that have done well for more than 150 years obviously have done a lot right. Many of these institutions are likely to appeal to those pursuing the path of Bhakthi Yoga. These are the regions that get tagged with “Organized Religion” and are likely to be perceived as more “traditional or ritualistic”.

The Matams established by Adi Sankara for instance have been in place for more than a thousand years and had a successful lineage of more than 70 leaders.  Many of these temples are the institutions that reveal the timeless nature of Hindu philosophy. And, yet - their successful scale could become a deterrent making us feel not connected enough.

Regions 8 and 9:
These institutions have lasted for more than 75 years or 150 years - despite having not scaled enough. The word that comes to mind is "cult" - but, not in a negative sense. This way of life or teaching appealed to enough people that it lasted for so long. As much as I hear about Naga Sadhus every Kumbh Mela (once in 12 years) – I would not consider them to have had any scalable effect. Please use caution in clicking on this link and this link about Naga Sadhus. It contains nudity.

None came up in my data for Region 8. It doesn’t mean they don’t exist. If they really don’t exist – it must be because the world has stopped creating fringe organizations of not too big scale in the last 100 years. If Church of Scientology survives for another 2 decades, we could see it here one day J

Whom to follow?
If your heart or gut says you have found the institution or guru to learn from, you knew all along this article was not for you. Thanks for reading thus far and I hope you found the right one and wish you the best in your spiritual journey.

If you were searching for an institution, I hope this article helps you in driving a closure in your mind, thus putting an end to wandering from one Guru or institution to another.

Twenty years from now, you wake up to the breaking news that the institution you have been following for half your life is mired in a scandal. If this is the risk you want to avoid – stay with institutions that have been there for at least 60 to 75 years with successful transition of power/control at least once or twice, and also have a group of next-generation leaders ready. These are typically in the later parts of Regions 2 and most of Region 4. Depending on the sector that interests you - Jnana or Bhakthi or Karma etc, there are many institutions available to be affiliated with. Most of these shown in the circle are dedicated to the path of Jnana Yoga.

If the institution that you follow is not listed, ask yourself the questions listed under the data section, and map your institution using the framework. This reasoning should allow you to know more of what you are really seeking.

From time to time, it is still critical to seek inspiration from the temples and institutions that have been there for centuries. It would be good to visit them from Regions 6 and 7. These are the annual pilgrimages where our parents and grand parents have taken us. In other words, listen to your Region 1 institutions too - Your family !