Jul 16, 2018

Book Review: So good they can't ignore you by Cal Newport



Some books you find interesting, some you find insightful while only a few would feel like they understand you and were written especially for you. I felt this way when I read “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert a couple of years back. Over the past one week, I was engrossed in Cal Newport’s "So good they can’t ignore you”. The underlying message felt so relatable and clarified many questions that were haunting me.

Last year, I read “Deep work” by the same author. It was such an insightful read on how our distracted daily routine with multitasking and busyness derails our ability to engross in deep, meaningful work with utmost focus. Here’s my detailed review. If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend that you check it out.

“So good they can’t ignore you” as the subtitle suggests is all about why investing in building skills is more important than mere passion in the quest for work you love. 

I find these two phrases - “identify your passion” and “do the work you love” to be quite ambiguous and misleading. Does that mean that all of us need to identify what we love when we decide on our college major? It is an extremely tough ask if you haven’t had enough exposure to various options while growing up. As people grow and evolve, interests and passions also change. 

Coming back to the book, the author details out the pitfalls of adopting the “passion mindset”, a focus on what value your job offers you.
“When you focus only on what your work offers you, it makes you hyperaware of what you don’t like about it, leading to chronic unhappiness”.
As an alternative, he recommends what he calls the “craftsman mindset”, a focus on what value you are producing in your job.
“Regardless of what you do for a living, approach your work like a true performer”.
The main outcome of adopting a craftsman mindset is to work on acquiring your career capital.
"If you want to do great work, you need to build up rare and valuable skills - career capital - to offer in return.”
Identifying these rare and valuable skills, consciously stretching yourself through deliberate practice and seeking out active feedback are ways by which you go about increasing your career capital. 

The career capital you have accumulated would help you find great work - ones that offer rare and valuable traits such as control, creativity and impact/mission. 

Control - gives you command over what work you do, when you do and how you do it. It is one of the powerful motivators of a fulfilling career.

An overarching mission enables one to look at their career as a way to make a meaningful impact. In order to make this mission come true, the author recommends a strategy called “little bets” - small and achievable projects that help one to learn from small but significant wins and lots of little failures. These little bets also need to remarkable - compelling people to remark about it. 

This might sound like a lot of theory, but what I have learned is that irrespective of the work you do, you need to consciously build rare and valuable skills. This “career capital” would help you achieve those traits of great work like working towards a mission, having control over what you do and applying your creativity without any bureaucratic barriers. If you look at it, one ends up wanting to pursue their passion in order to achieve the same results.

It was an insightful read with a lot of relevant examples and case-studies. At times, it does tend to get a little dragging and repetitive. But it is worth taking the time to absorb the material and ponder over it, especially if you are an early to mid-stage working professional.

Jul 11, 2018

5 areas to focus for good health

Someone had posed me this question - "Not everything that was done in 80's and 90's is good too. If it was, India would not be a diabetes/cholesterol hub today. Isnt it?

This question came up as a comment to one of my posts as I keep referring back to 80s and the good practices followed with respect to home cooking. Whoever asked this, thanks. It’s an interesting question that got me thinking.

First of all, avoiding junk and eating healthy, home cooked food is definitely NOT the ONLY contributor to good health, though it plays an important role. There are so many other factors that need to be considered - physical activity, exercise, emotional wellbeing, keeping one’s mind active and engaged, environmental factors such as air we breathe, water we drink etc.

Speaking from my experience, if I am stressed about something, then the negative effects of that stress outweighs all my other regular healthy habits like eating home cooked food, avoiding junk, doing Yoga etc. Emotional wellbeing plays such a significant role in our health.

Going back to the question, I consider 80s to be a sandwich decade and 90s to be the decade of change post liberalisation. 

TV entered Indian households in the 80s with just Doordarshan (DD1 and DD2) with limited timings. There weren’t 24-hr back-to-back programmes back then. I remember the TV will be switched on around 7PM and we would watch News, Chitrahaar, Oliyum OLiyum etc for max 1 - 1.5 hours. Same timing applied for my parents and grandparents too. The concept of sedentary lifestyle didn’t exist back then. Every adult in the family was extremely busy with some physical work or the other. 

Come 90s, slowly things started changing, with “cable TV” entering our households. The endless serials and choices of channels reduced our physical movement and activity. Because of liberalisation, new junk foods got introduced. Bread, jam, margarine, biscuits etc became easily available. Refined oils became the norm and cold-pressed oil mills shut shop. Handpounded rice gave way to silky, polished white rice which most of us grew up eating. The practice of cooking with millets was totally lost, except for the occasional “kevurumaavu dosai” (ragi dosa) that would be made at grandma’s home. Plastic entered our homes from all directions.

That’s the same time when the number of people with diabetes and blood pressure started increasing, especially among people with higher disposable income. I remember an article I read in the 90s that spoke about how diabetes is a disease that targets the rich (panakkaarargaLukku varum vyaadhi). Who were considered “rich" back then - people who can afford cable TV and can afford the time to sit and watch through all serials, people who can afford househelp and delegate the household chores, people who can go out to restaurants, buy packaged food, get imported chocolates from cousins visiting from abroad etc.

Because of increased disposable incomes and easy availability of many “conveniences” at affordable pricing, the number of people falling into this “rich” bracket kept increasing in the 90s and 2000s. 

These above conclusions are based SOLELY on my observations and may not bear any statistical significance.

Based on the data from WHO, as you can see, the sharp increase in diabetes incidence started from the 90s and the numbers are only getting worse as years pass by.

Source: http://www.who.int/diabetes/country-profiles/ind_en.pdf

Long story short, irrespective of the decade you were born or grew up in, I believe all of us need to consciously focus on these 5 areas for our good health.

1. Eat home cooked, local foods. Avoid all packaged, junk foods.
2. Do some form of exercise that interests you and pushes you a little bit everyday.
3. Stay active throughout the day, keep moving, don’t sit for longer hours
4. Look after your emotional wellbeing. Avoid stress in all forms. Stay engaged in any activity of your interest. Get a good night's sleep for 7-8 hours.
5. Do your best to protect our planet. The health of the planet impacts your health.

Jul 10, 2018

Book Review: Job Be Damned by Rishi Piparaiya

https://www.flipkart.com/job-be-damned/p/itmf59yudhxfchfw?pid=9789352777679


The synopsis sounded so interesting that I felt I might give this book a shot. And I’m so glad I made the choice to read it. Over the past one week, I have been smiling, laughing, smirking, nodding my head and ROFLing at every page. My 6-year old was wondering what has happened to me and was insisting that I explain the joke to her. As much as I attempted to give an explanation, unless and until someone had experienced the situation, he/she may not appreciate the context.

Having worked in MNCs and startups for more than a decade, Rishi Piparaiya's "Job be damned" reminded me of so many moments from my work life. Right from the interviews, orientation, navigating office politics, organization hierarchy, offsite events, appraisals, managing expectations etc, the author has covered it all. Humorous, funny, witty, sarcastic and actionable, he has recommended strategies that one could easily relate to. Underneath all the humor and fun, one cannot deny the fact that there lies some truth to the many issues.

My most relatable moment in the book is the visit from someone higher up from regional headquarters. The schedule would usually be a one-day offsite, a lavish meal at a 5-star restaurant when this concerned person would be perplexed by the display of various dishes, the hopeless chit-chat about weather, his food preferences, traffic etc and finally a strategy meeting where a few team members would be asked to present the future plan of the business unit/project to this visitor. The author surely took me back down the memory lane :-)

The powerful jargon, high-octane action verbs, one-liners and corporate mumbo-jumbo to be included in your CV, interviews, powerpoint presentations, goal setting process, meetings, appraisal reviews etc are all explained so beautifully. 

The chapters on the “holy trinity of work” - meetings, procrastination and CYA are so hilarious and outright funny. He must have attended so many meetings in order to come up with such precise understanding of how meetings work in any corporate organization. The tips on how to participate and get noticed, right from body language to expressions are well detailed.

A few of my favorite lines from the chapter on “Meetings”
Another effective way to scuttle invites is to insist that some other folks from different departments attend as well. The convener will go crazy coordinating multiple schedules and the meeting will never take place.

Completely fill up the room and if you are short of attendees, dress up the pantry boys in shirts and ties and pass them off as interns.

Wave your hands passionately with fingers wide as you make an important point. Add on some head clucking movements, back and forth like a chicken, and you’ll surely receive the passionate Employee of the Month award. Hit the table hard a few times as you speak and it just got upgraded to Employee of the Year. 

As someone who has worked in middle management, I could relate to the chapters on managing perceptions with the team, managing expectations with the boss, managing emails and structuring presentations. The pages that talked about people who take smoking breaks with the boss and get insider information is just so so true. 

I only wish that the author has taken a stab at highlighting gender bias and the associated subtle issues prevailing in the industry.

If you have ever worked in the corporate sector, you’d be able to relate and appreciate the various issues and the author’s proposed solutions. You might have been the victim or might have been the initiator of one or more of the strategies discussed. A total laugh riot from the first page to the end! I thoroughly enjoyed it. A good break from the kind of serious books that I usually read.

P.S. The book was sent to me by Flipkart as part of their "bloggers initiative". The review is my honest and unbiased feedback on the book.

Jul 6, 2018

Maggi Masala-ae-Magic Review



I usually buy a small pack of Maggi for my daughter (remember, the once-a-month rule). Since she doesn’t eat spicy food, I add a pinch of the masala pack while cooking Maggi and throw away the rest. I recently learned that the Maggi masala is being sold separately and people add it to dry vegetable curries to enhance the taste.

The product is called Maggi Masala-ae-magic with the tagline “Truly good aromatic roasted spices - to make your everyday vegetables delicious”. Apparently it tastes similar to the noodles masala pack but not exactly the same.

The ads talk about 10 roasted spices that constitute this spice blend. Given that our Indian cuisine celebrates spices and most of our cooking involves adding a range of spice powders, I was wondering why there is a need to add a sachet of Maggi masala.

Screenshot taken from Amazon on 6th Jul 2018


As always, I turned to the ingredients list:
-----------------
Mixed spices ((38.7%) (Red chilli powder (7%), Onion powder, Cumin powder (5.2%), Garlic powder, Coriander powder, Capsicum extract, Turmeric powder (3.5%), Aniseed (1.4%), Black pepper powder (0.9%), Fenugreek powder (0.7%), Ginger powder, Clove powder (0.3%), Green cardamom powder (0.3%), Nutmeg powder (0.3%), Coriander extract and Cumin extract))
Salt
Sugar
Flavour enhancer (635)
Palm oil
Edible Starch
Acidity Regulator (330)
Minerals
Caramel salt mix (Salt, Colour (150d) & Palm oil)
Vitamin A

Contains Permitted Natural colour and added flavour (Natural flavouring substances)
---------------

The spice blend is ONLY 38.7%, rest of it is all unnecessary junk.

One portion is 2.1 gm powder. 100 gm of this product contains 15901 mg of sodium, so a portion contains 334mg of sodium. If we use this pack, do we still need to add extra salt to the sabzi? I’m not sure about this, but it does seem like unnecessary sodium added.

This spice blend contains SUGAR as well. 100 gm of this product contains 12.7 gm of sugar. Not a lot though. Might be added to balance out the flavours, but totally not required.

Leaving the salt and sugar aside, let’s come to the main issue - FLAVOUR ENHANCER (635)

These are Disodium ribonucleotides, that cause similar harmful effects as MSG.

According to this source,
Ribonucleotides are not permitted in foods intended specifically for infants and young children, and people who must avoid purines for conditions such as gout are advised to avoid these additives.
Now, who does the 80s actress Nadiya serve “kovakkai poriyal” made with Maggi Masala ae magic to? Yes, children. Check out the ad, if you haven't seen it.

The ad is conveying the message - “add this masala to boring veggies like kovakkai (ivygourd). And kids would love it”.

The number one challenge that many mothers face with respect to their child’s nutrition is “How to feed veggies to my kids?”. See, how clever marketing touches the right chord!

And do take a note of the caramel colour 150d that I had earlier shared in my post on Kelloggs Chocos.

Why would anyone want to add harmful chemicals, just so that the kids would eat veggies?

I’ll keep repeating this line over and over -  
“Please, please read the ingredients list. Don’t blindly trust the ads and marketing messages”


Jul 4, 2018

Sunfeast Dark Fantasy Choco-fills Review



A few weeks back, I was at my IL’s place with D. D’s favourite activity there is to watch Doraemon episodes on Disney Channel. I don’t mind if she watches Doraemon, the characters are cute and funny. My main problem is the sheer volume of ads being played within a span of 30 minutes. D gets introduced to all new junk foods whenever she watches Disney Channel (grrrrr!!!!). One such ad that makes me so angry is Sunfeast’s Dark Fantasy Choco Fills. I’ll come to the ingredients shortly but what irritates me the most is the theme "Can’t wait, won't wait”.

What kind of a message are they sending? That if we want something, we had to get it right away? The children of current generation are already facing the brunt of instant gratification offered by various gadgets and games. This ad’s message seems to emphasize it even more. As a mother, I find it extremely challenging with D, if I had to make her wait for something. But we continue with our effort as much as possible.

Ability to delay gratification through self-control is considered as one of the most important criteria for success in life. Read more about the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment (A must-read for all parents). That’s something to ponder over.


Let’s come back to the ingredients list of SunFeast Dark Fantasy Choco-Fills:

--------------
Choco creme (38%) (Sugar, refined palm oil, refined palmolein, cocoa solids, antioxidant (INS 322(i) and added flavours (Nature identical flavouring substances - chocolate and artificial flavouring substances - ethyl vanillin)
Wheat flour
Hydrogenated vegetable oil,
Sugar
Invert Syrup,
Liquid Glucose
Raising Agents (INS 503(ii), INS 500(ii), INS 450(i))
Cocoa Solids (0.7%)
Butter
Milk Solids
Edible Common Salt
Emulsifiers (INS 322(i), INS 471)

Contains Permitted Natural Colours (INS 150c and INS 150d) and added flavours (Nature identical flavouring substances - chocolate and artificial flavouring substances - vanilla and milk)
——————— 
Yep, the typical junk food profile with all expected ingredients - maida, sugar, hydrogenated oil, refined palmolein, various artificial additives, flavors and colours. As I wrote about in my post on JimJam biscuits, sugar gets added in various forms - invert syrup, liquid glucose.

A 30Rs chocofill pack (75gm) contains 6 packs (12.5 gm each). According to the nutrition facts table, 100 gm of product contains 37.6 gm of sugar. Let’s calculate what it means for each pack.

Each chocofill contains 4.7 gm OR a little more than a tsp of sugar. Compared to its equivalent “Lotte Choco Pie”, the sugar is relatively lower, primarily because of the difference in pack sizes (12.5 gm v/s 28 gm).

Each chocofill contains 3.125 gm OR a little less than a tsp of unhealthy fats. Yes, it contains trans-fats as well, though the quantity is less (0.1gm in 100 gms).

Since this comes in individual packs, many moms choose to pack it in their kid’s snack box. I wish all schools would enforce a strict “no-junk” policy. Even if schools don’t do that, I wish moms follow a rule for themselves that they wouldn’t pack any junk in their kid’s tiffin.

A few easy and healthy snack box ideas include
- boiled peanuts
- fresh, seasonal fruits
- vegetable salad
- roasted makhana
- dry fruits and nuts
- chikkis
- homemade laddoos

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