Captains and concerns – impressions of IPL 2021

This blog post must, to be precise, be considered as relevant to the second half of the IPL that is about to conclude in UAE. Already, the first half that took place in India in April – May has become a distant memory. All I remember is that Chennai Super Kings (CSK) was already dominant. All other teams were struggling. Royal Challengers Bengaluru (RCB) and Delhi Capitals (DC) were doing alright. That is my recollection of the first half.

Now, let us start with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). They must be keeping their fingers crossed and hoping that tomorrow’s final match passes off well and that they can heave a sigh of relief that one more season is  behind them. There is more money on the way with two more teams and all auctions being fully open. There is a lot of money in this tournament for all concerned and where it is being generated is through television and on-ground advertising rights. Well, consumer marketing is about converting wants into needs and creating needs where none exists. It is all about perceptions. It is a world of illusion. So is money and so is IPL itself. It fits in rather well with the era of Non-Fungible Tokens and artists and sculptors selling non-existent paintings and sculptures.

Today’s Bloomberg – online edition – has a story on Bollywood getting in behind bitcoin. Bollywood is behind IPL as well. So, it fits.

This is the backdrop to IPL. Well, to be fair to IPL, everything is an illusion to some Advaitic teachers. It is all one huge theatre. So what is wrong with having mini-theatres inside this huge theatre?

With that philosophical rambling out of the way, let us address ‘real’ issues.

Tomorrow’ match might turn out to be the final competitive cricket that MS Dhoni plays, Notwithstanding his five-ball heroics against Delhi Capitals, it has been a forgettable two years for him in the IPL. Time has caught up with him. No shame in that. He can sign off on a high. I hope he does. I was fortunate to have watched his last World Cup innings against New Zealand at the Old Trafford in person. His six off Lockie Ferguson would remain etched in memory. The ball hit the billboards on the point boundary in a fraction of a second after it left the bat. Such was the power and timing. He almost saw India through but for a brilliant run out by Martin Guptill. So long.

Talking of captains, we had Virat Kohli stepping down as captain of RCB. Apparently, some have called the move, ‘selfish’ on social media. I don’t think so. He is entirely right to focus on his core competence – batting. Captaining the Indian side in all three formats and his IPL franchise, especially in the last two Covid-infested years must have been a big burden on him. Well, it has been a big burden to some others. In his comments on Kohli’s decision, AB de Villiers has defended it. He is right.

In his post-match interview after the defeat to KKR, Kohli mostly hit the right notes. Of course, he sounded rather idealistic by saying that his loyalty to his franchise would remain until he gave up playing in IPL and that other considerations would not influence him. In a truly commercial entertainment complex that IPL is, such sentiments do not necessarily sound very moving. Here is the link to his special remarks posted on RCB YouTube page.

His decision to bowl Dan Christian overlooking Shahbaz Ahmed was a strange one. That one over cost RCB the match. Kohli might have been miffed that Shahbaz dropped a simple chance in the outfield. Anyway, RCB overall had a season to be proud of. We will come to specific players later. Let us stay with captains.

Another captain who signed off or was forced to sign off was David Warner. He was dropped unceremoniously after about two matches in the UAE leg. He seems hurt. Based on public accounts of his being dropped, it does seem that the episode has not been handled gracefully. Of course, we do not know the other side of the story. Letting go of someone for non-performance is not easy because it is difficult to tell someone on their face that they are no good. But, the more difficult it is to pull off in person, the more awkward and bitter it is to do it any other way. So, better to have a nice, open and graceful conversation, as quickly as possible. Such interactions need preparations and rehearsing too. Nothing wrong with that.

Of course, the pull of the (money in the) tournament is evident in the anxiety with which David Warner announces his battle-readiness for a few more years and even to captain another side!

Staying with captains, my somewhat-less-strongly held view is that both Sanju Samson and Rishabh Pant are not yet ready for the burden of captaincy. It may be affecting their batting. Sanju’s record does not reflect that possibility yet, of course. When he gets going, Sanju does make batting look easy. Amazing talent, still. But, the consistency is still missing although he showed some signs of it this year, only to fade away towards the end.

But, in  both cases, the impression I get is that they are neither old nor experienced enough to be big motivators and hence be able to lift their team. That is based on what I saw on the ground.

In fact, Rishabh Pant may have been sorted out by bowlers and analysts from opposing teams. After his Australian and Indian heorics, he has been rather mediocre throughout the English summer and that has continued in IPL too. Check out his average and strike rate in IPL since the brilliant year he had in 2018. His shot selection too has been questionable, on several occasions. No doubt his wicket keeping has improved leaps and bounds. But, it may not be out of place to ask if India should prepare another wicket-keeper-batsman to take over or have KL Rahul keep wickets in ODIs and T20s, thus opening up the place for an all-rounder or batsman or bowler as the situation demanded.

Another person who appears to have been sorted out by bowlers is Hardik Pandya. If his batting has been thus bottled and his bowling now a remote possibility, then his place in the Indian team and in the franchise must be seriously reconsidered.

In a way, this IPL season has thrown up some worries about India’s batting talent pool. Ok, it was admirable to see KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma come good in the seaming and swinging conditions in England. In fact, the latter far more than the former did. Only Virat Kohli had shown adaptability across all three formats. Rohit is now almost there or already there. KL Rahul is closely behind. That is good news. Virat Kohli and Pujara are not entirely stuck in the deep end of the pool because they had good starts. Pujara, in fact, scored more runs and averaged better than Kohli in the Test series against England. Ajinkya seems like he needs time out temporarily or more permanently than that.

But, what about the younger talent? That is where the worries surface. Shubman has had a mostly forgettable year after his Australia exploits. Even in India, he failed to impress. It is a small consolation that he began to look better organised in the last few matches in IPL 2021.  But, his temperament and technique against the moving ball are yet to be established.

Some of the younger batters who, I thought, would consolidate their promising reputation of 2020, have had a more difficult year. In particular, I think Riyan Parag and Priyam Garg have not gotten too many opportunities to spend time in the middle or, whenever they got such opportunities, they did not cash in on them well. Both Rajasthan Royals and Sunrisers Hyderabad had gotten into such situations in which both these  young batsmen had enough overs to display their technique and temperament. They did not grab them. Same goes for Abhishek Sharma and Shivam Dube although he is a bit older than the other three.

Manish Pandey is some sort of a mystery. Only in the final match, when nothing was at stake – it was not even remotely possible to win that match – did his strike rate impress, as a batsman. Why is he bogged down? To me, it remains a mystery,

Harsha Bhogle mentioned that it is good to see India have three young left-handed opening batsmen – Devdutt Padikkal, Yashasvi Jaiswal and Venkatesh Iyer. Of the three, Padikkal appears more accomplished although all three of them are yet to be tested against genuinely quick short-pitched bowling without field placement restrictions. Venkatesh Iyer hits through the line cleanly but his feet movement (or, the lack of them) is a worry. Surprisingly, Delhi Capitals’ pacers did not test him with short-pitched stuff in their elimination match on the 13th October. Jaiswal had a better outing this year in IPL than last year. But, he has to mature. He is a good talent, however.

The bowling front looks much more promising for India. We have Chetan Sakariya, Harshal Patel, Ravi Bishnoi, Arshadeep, Avesh Khan and the new kid on the block Umran Malik who bowls very fast. Harshal’s slower ones are so well disguised that his wickets cannot be deemed fluke. He has come back strongly after the pasting he got from Ravindra Jadeja in the India leg of IPL 2021. That is impressive.  Good to see too, the return to form of Yuzvendra Chahal. One who has made very impressive strides is Mohammed Siraj. Shami has been steady and Bhuvanesh Kumar is a bit of a worry, both on form and fitness. Shardul Thakur acquitted himself rather well, except in one match. Overall, the bowling cupboard seems well stocked, compared to the batting cupboard.

Ravichandran Ashwin, who got shabby treatment in the hands of Shastri and Kohli in the England Test series seemed to be overly strung in his IPL matches. He seemed too tense and too eager to prove himself. In the process, his bowling performance was not as impressively consistent as it could have been. Overall, he did not have a bad second half but I expected it to be a lot better. His fielding lapses have proved costly. He dropped relatively straightforward catches – one against RCB and one against KKR in the eliminator. So did Axar Patel, with his misfielding in the match against RCB.

Perhaps, the Delhi Capital cricketers got too tired in the heat after repeated outings or that they lacked the fire. Even the usually reliable Shreyas Iyer misfielded in the match against KKR although he took a stunning catch in the match against CSK.

It is striking that with the possible exception of Glenn Maxwell and Shimron Hetmeyer, most overseas players had forgettable outings in IPL 2021, esp. in the second half. Ok, Faf and ABV shone in the first half and Faf had a great outing in the match against Punjab Kings too. But, among the top run-getters and wicket-takers, there are mostly Indian names. It is a good thing.

Kagiso Rabada has begun to go for plenty in his overs. In other words, he is not as consistently reliable as he used to be. That was evident last year too. We have to wait and see if Jofra Archer retains his pace and frugality when he returns to IPL, if he does. Even Nortje who had a better outing than Rabada had, for Delhi Capitals, went for plenty in the match against Chennai and against KKR, by his standards, at nearly 8 runs per over. More than the average economy rate, in critical overs towards the end, he got taken for 13-14 runs.

Delhi Capitals played Tom Curran in the match against CSK and he got to deliver the final over which sealed the match in favour of CSK. Now, if anyone had watched his bowling performance last year for RR, he would not have been given the ball for the 20th over. No matter how inconsistent Rabada had become, he should have been trusted with the 20th over. In the end, Rabada bowled only 3 out of his 4 overs against CSK. He did rather well against KKR in the eliminator – even better than Nortje.

AB de Villiers did not shine with the bat in the UAE leg. Nicholas Pooran was at least more consistent than him! That is, he failed in both the India and the UAE legs of 2021 IPL as he did in 2020 in UAE. Some of his shots were hard to understand. It is doubtful if Punjab Kings would retain him for the next season. It will also be interesting to see if ABV retains his place with RCB. A commentator said, on television, that Kohli consulted Maxwell more than he consulted ABV, this  year. Oh, well.

Andre Russell has shone only briefly both in 2020 and in 2021. Kieran Pollard has had a forgettable year, for the most part. Eoin Morgan has had such a lean trot that he must be hoping that he comes well in the finals on the 15th October thus getting into the right frame of mind for the T-20 World Cup. As a captain, it is difficult to command respect from fellow players unless one can keep his place in the team on the strength of their bowling or batting. Fielding somehow does not matter that much in that sense.

It was very interesting to watch Avesh Khan’s triumphant smile in the final over against RCB’s Shrikar Bharata turn into a frown when the latter pumped him for a six off the last ball to win the match for RCB. Then, in the next match, he went for plenty against CSK. It was good for India that he came back into form in the match against KKR, although in a losing cause. Better to let your deeds talk.

On that note, I think being benched would do or should do a world of good for Prasidh Krishna. His no-balls are most unprofessional in this format. Plus, he seems prone to lose his marbles and cool a little too easily. He needs to mature.

I was personally disappointed to see T. Natarajan not get a chance. Ever since he returned triumphantly from Australia, it has been a rough year for him. I hope that he has another 2-4 years of cricket left in him and that fitness allows him to play for that long. Pity.

Similarly, Karthik Tyagi impressed last year and was picked as a good net bowler in Australia. He has pace and a big heart but he needs to become a bit more stingy with his economy rate. Of course, he went into the record books with his last over, defending 6 runs and beating Punjab Kings. He was lucky with one wide call, however. Nonetheless, that was a great final over for a young bowler, something that Tom Curran could not do against Dhoni – yes, different day and a different pitch.

But, what is it with Rajasthan Royals against Punjab Kings? Last  year, they plucked victory from the jaws of defeat thanks to Rahul Tewatia and this year, it was Karthik Tyagi again taking the match out of Punjab Kings’ hands off the last over. These are my two most favourite teams in IPL and one of them happens to inflict some serious raw wound on the other.

I feel sorry for KL, my most favourite cricketer in the Indian team. Incidentally, do any of us pick bowlers as our favourite cricketers? How many do so? Must be a small number. Why is that so? Why is cricket a batsman’s game?

KL’s phenomenal hitting against CSK is something that I only watched later. I decided to get on with some chores and watch the last four to five overs, thinking that Punjab Kings would make heavy weather of it, as usual. But when I tuned in late, the match had finished in the 13th over.

Punjab’s problem is that their overseas players – in the last two years – Maxwell, Gayle and Pooran have disappointed with their batting. Markram shows some promise as does Fabian Allen. Let us see in 2022.

I will also be happy to see Sunrisers Hyderabad turn it around next year. Both Kane Williamson and Rashid Khan – stars from yesteryears – did not have a great season in 2021.

Personally, I am glad that it is not one more year of Mumbai Indians lifting the IPL Trophy. They were a bit tame and confused throughout this season. The main reason is that their two star batsmen of 2021 – Ishan Kishan and Suryakumar Yadav (SKY) – did not perform well this year. Both came good in their final match but that was not enough. But, for the sake of India, I hope SKY does well. He can actually be a free-stroking middle order bat for the Indian Test side too. He can come in place of Pant if KL Rahul keeps wickets in test matches too! Why not?

Tomorrow is the final of the tournament. CSK are the favourites to win. I do not have a preference. Ruturaj Gaekwad has been sublime in his batting. 600+ runs in a season is no mean achievement. For the most part, he plays cricketing shots. But, I hope he is tested by Lockie with some good, pacy and short-pitched bowling and that he comes good too. That would be good for Indian cricket.

One of the minor delights of this year’s IPL has been the ability to listen to Dinesh Karthik’s running commentary from behind the stumps, coaching Varun Chakravarthy every ball, in Tamil. I wish commentators would stop talking then and let us listen to Karthik’s take on the batsmen and their ability to read Varun. More often, they have not been able to do so. Varun has had a very good year with the ball.

Overall, the low-bounce and slow pitches of Sharjah has made cricket more absorbing to watch with the par score being 130 and with 140 being a good score. 150 is almost a winning score. That is a big change from commentators pushing the par score up to 160 with 180 being a formidable score and 200 being a winning total.

I am glad that even this big-hitting tournament created some room for bowlers in the UAE leg. That is the most gratifying thing about the second leg of IPL 2021.

Neither technology nor social work help us walk the fine line

Among the modern elites and experts, there is a belief that technology – whether it is of the digital variety or others – is the answer to humanity’s problems. If only they were right…
 
Technology provides plenty of answers to the challenges of human development and solves many problems connected with that. But, technology is no match to the challenges of evolution of the human mind itself.
 
In page 51 of his commentary on ‘Viveka Chudaamani’,  Swami Ranganathananda writes:
 
We conquer external nature by science and technology. Similarly, there is an inner nature to be conquered.
 
Implicit in these lines is that technology is no answer to the problems of the inner nature.
 
Technology indeed accentuates and even exacerbates human frailties and inherent tendencies such as anger, fear, greed, jealousy, possessiveness and insecurity. This article is but one example of it.
 
Another answer – and this is better than the reliance on technology – is to rely on human intelligence and human ingenuity. This is far more promising. For example, Edward Jenner realised that milkmaids did not catch smallpox because they were already inoculated with cowpox and hence he proceeded to develop the vaccine for smallpox. The scourge was defeated.
 
But, even with human intelligence and ingenuity, there are limits because they run into inherent human frailties. In the epoch that we live in, the latter prevail, except for a very, very few. 
 
This story published a while ago in nautil.us is a classic reminder of that. It is tragic and yet highly insightful. It can happen and often happens to the most brilliant of minds.
 
A story that corroborates and illustrates this point is the relationship between two most preeminent psychologists of the 20th century: Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. Their collaboration led to many original and breathtaking insights about how the human mind works.
 
But, that did not stop them from falling out with each other. It was the impending death of Tversky that reunited them.
 
The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis captures this brilliantly and poignantly.
 
At this stage, you are entitled to ask, ‘What is the point of it, all?
 
Well, the point is that technology is unhelpful in treading the middle path between ‘Taking oneself too seriously’ and ‘Examining oneself too critically’. The latter too is a form of ego. It reflects the arrogance of the perfectionist.
 
Humans are not made to be perfect. They are flawed. The journey of human evolution begins there.
 
One answer, many write somewhat superficially, is to dedicate oneself to the service of others. For example, in page 54 in his commentary on ‘Viveka Chudaamani’, Swami Ranganathananda writes, 
 
Every action we do must be for the good of others and without selfish motive.
 
In page 42, he cites Swami Vivekananda who is said to have written to the Maharaja of Mysore in a letter (The complete works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol. 4, p. 363):
 
… they alone who live for others, the rest are more dead than alive.
 
In this particular respect, Swami Ranganathananda comes closer than Swami Vivekananda, because Swami Ranganathananda refers to ‘seflishness’.
 
Social work is not selfless work. The word ‘selfless’ should be understood as ‘Self-less’, i.e., without the notion of self.
 
Otherwise, running a social organisation is no different from running a commercial entity. It is about recognising, identifying and isolating the SELF from the work. Not staking one’s ego and identity in the work that we do that makes it selfless work. If one is full of ego and oneself and even if they run a social organisation, it is as good or as bad as chasing market share.
 
Conversely, you could be running a commercial organisation or working for one. As long as you do the work SELF-lessly, then you are doing fine. It means that one does not identify one-SELF with the company or with the outcomes but just with the action. That takes us to the core message of the Bhagawad Gita, of course. The Lord did not tell us not to have any goals or act without any outcomes in mind but not to attach oneself or, more precisely, one’s SELF to the outcomes.
 
Not many who are doing service to others are doing SELF-less work and it is probably the same with commercial organisations as well.
 
In the second Shloka of Vivekachudaamani, Adi Sankara writes:
 
… muktirno śatajanmakoṭisukṛtaiḥ puṇyairvinā labhyate
 
Rough translation:
 
This kind of) Mukti (Liberation) is not to be attained except through the well-earned merits of a hundred crore of births. [Link]
 
Swami Ranganathananda provides the same translation.
 
I don’t know how many times you have been born already. I am pretty sure that I have at least a few tens of crores of births to cross. 
 
Let me just try to be aware of my SELF in all situations. That is a good reminder and a good place to start.
 
Oh, well, by sending this blog post to all my friends, clearly, I have not been SELF-less nor detached my-SELF from the fruits of the act of sending the mail to my friends!
 
Long, long way to go!
 

A 50-year wait that ended

India won at the Oval Cricket grounds in 2021. It won there last in 1971. It is now Kia Oval. It was just Oval, Surrey. It drew a Test match at the Old Trafford in 1971, thanks to the rains. It will now play the last Test match at Emirates Old Trafford, starting Friday. These are signs of the globalisation of the world that is waning, in any case.

Well, it need not have been a 50-year wait for India to register a second victory at the Oval cricket grounds. It could have happened in 1979 itself but for one umpire named David Constant who was consistent in giving controversial decisions in favour of English cricketers and against India. He got G.R. Viswanath dismissed for a bump ball catch and declared Venkatraghavan run out. India made a mistake in sending Kapil Dev ahead of Viswanath. The former wasted eight precious balls. Calmer minds would have decided better. But, that was then. That was an epic chase of 438 that fell short by 9 runs. That series did mark a renaissance of Indian cricket for India had salvaged a very honourable draw after being asked to follow on at Lord’s. Viswanath and Vengsarkar scored very good centuries in the second innings.

I am reading a book on the golden year of Indian cricket that was 1971. The book mentions how Ray Illingworth, the English captain got a very special treatment from the English umpires in the series. They did their best to support an Ashes-winning captain Illingworth from being humiliated by a ‘rag-tag bobtail outfit’. Ok. Back to 2021.

India owed its victory at the Oval Test principally to three characters: Rohit Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah and Shardul Thakur. There were supporting roles for others such as Pujara, Rohit, Umesh Yadav and Jadeja. Jadeja, more than his two wickets, helped seamers find reverse swing by landing the ball on the rough and roughing it up further. Yes, Pant’s wicket-keeping is of a high quality and his 50 too was responsible. KL Rahul chipped in with a useful 40+ as well in the second innings. Rahul is still looking to poke his bat at too many balls landing on the fourth or the fifth stump. One can call it a team effort, thus. But, clearly, it was about three players.

Jasprit Bumrah deserved far more than the two wickets shown against him in the second innings. I watched (on television) the six-over post-lunch spell. It was terrific stuff. Rahane should have pouched that catch he dropped off Overton (am I correct?) and Root barely survived against him. In contrast, Umesh Yadav’s figures flattered his bowling. He seemed to fade away in the first innings and was pretty much ineffective in the second except with the second new ball, somewhat. Siraj will be a far more lethal bowler, if he adds a bit more variety to his repertoire of skills with the cricket ball and also allows his mind to work rather than his heart. He was keen to celebrate a catch before he had completed it and hurt a precious asset in the process, thankfully. No lasting damage, I suppose.

I would be amiss if I did not mention the role played by Moeen Ali and Haseeb Hameed. Moeen Ali gave away nearly 5 runs per over in the second innings. Dropped a catch (am I correct?) and wasted two reviews. More than made up for Ravichandran Ashwin’s absence for India, in a way. Did not score enough runs in the first innings and did not negotiate Jadeja in the second.

For the record, I am not very impressed with Haseeb Hameed. He is almost a strokeless wonder. The wagon-wheel after his 50 showed no runs in front of the wicket in the V-arc. He has no drive to speak of. Just check out his strike rate in the two hours before lunch on day 5. He sapped all momentum from England’s innings and played a small part in the run out of David Malan although the latter had a bigger share of the blame. If England’s bench of reserves talent were overflowing, then Haseeb Hameed would not have gotten a look-in.

India under-bowled Thakur in the second innings, perhaps as did England with Moeen Ali. But, then, Shardul is perhaps an overrated bowler and an under-rated batsman, relatively speaking. His strokes were quite cultured, clean and confident. His second innings batting performance ranks much higher than his first outing in this match, in my book.

I think Rohit winning the ‘Man-of-the-match’ award was appropriate. It was a very good innings. Cliched but true that it was mind over matter. He looked well set for a double hundred. He was surprised by how quickly the new ball died on him. It was a tame dismissal; one that he did not deserve. He deserved to be dismissed by a far better delivery.

Rahane needs a rest and a visit back to the drawing board. A nice bloke and a quiet strong leader, I think. Under-rated as much the incumbent might be overrated, although I must admit that his bowling changes and field placements on day 5 impressed. We must get Hanuma Vihari in for the fifth Test in place of Rahane. Pujara might be coming into a better form and his batting in the second innings was quite purposeful.

Kohli is at least getting starts but not converting them. If this continues for another series, more questions will correctly be asked. His winning the match takes the sting out of the criticism against him for not picking Ashwin. It is unfortunate. Human tendency is to judge ex-ante actions based on ex-post outcomes. It was a bad decision. He was bailed out by Rohit, Shardul and Jasprit and the English team. Not picking Ashwin was a mistake and it would be a tragedy if this success emboldens him to shut the off-spinner from the fifth test. Either he would be incurring a big Karmic debt or that Ashwin is paying back a big Karmic debt. We will not know.

If I were the Indian team management, I would drop either Siraj or Umesh Yadav and Rahane and bring in Vihari and Ashwin for the final test starting on the 10th September.

This Indian team is not in the same league as the all-conquering Australian teams under Ian Chappell, Steve Waugh or even Ricky Ponting or that of the West Indies team under Clive Lloyd. It is playing in an era when all other teams are nowhere near their best. Too much cricket and too many tired legs and arms. So, Shane Warne was far too generous to the Indian team in his post-match comments on Sky Sports.

England competed against India and won in terms of not converting situations and opportunities into unassailable positions. Many commentators felt that England should have gotten a lead of more than 99. Well, from 63 for 5, that was a fair achievement on their part. Their problem was that their bowlers were more tired than Indian batters were determined on day 4.

India is up 2-1 and it is fair to say that it should have been 3-1 rather than 2-2 given the wash-out on day 5 at Trent Bridge. So, congratulations to them overall.

The problem with ‘rules, truths and beliefs’

Marcellus Investments (one of the founders is Saurabh Mukherjea) sends a weekly email called ‘Three longs; three shorts’. That is, three long articles and three short articles are presented. The mail dtd. 29th August 2021 flagged a blog post by Morgan Housel. Readers of this blog will not be unfamiliar with Morgan Housel. The post is called ‘Rules, Truths and Beliefs’.

I read the full post by Morgan Housel. The email from Marcellus had only flagged some select ‘Rules, Truths and Beliefs’. This blog post is mainly a reaction to the ones that they had flagged.

Preamble:

At some point, if Morgan Housel assembles everything he has written, he will find plenty of internal contradictions. That is not a criticism. That is how real life is.

He assembles these truisms (or principles) based on certain real life experiences. In that sense, they are context-specific. When the context changes, another principle takes its place.

He does not recognise that he is contradicting himself. That is because the only consistent principle one can have is

“Be intellectually flexible, be open-minded, have devil’s advocates around you; keep challenging yourself; seek out different viewpoints; think, reflect and be prepared to change course, if all of the above point in that direction, given the context.”

But, actually changing course is about ego and the rigidity that it automatically and subconsciously creates in oneself. We dig in and we don’t know.

Let us look at the six or seven bullets below that the newsletter had shared:

Lots of contrarianism is actually cynicism and lots of patience is actually stubbornness.

That may be true. But, whether it is contrarian behaviour or cynicism and patience or stubbornness is usually divined with the benefit of hindsight. We label the behaviour in the light of the outcomes. So, it is fine in theory. It is hard to make out whether the behaviour is contrarianism or cynicism ex-ante or in real time.

Average returns sustained for an above-average period of time leads to extraordinary returns.

Fair. But, that is patient investing. If someone tolerated average returns for a long period, as per the first bullet, he is stubborn and hiding his limitation in not seeking out or achieving above-average return!

Statistics and probability are the most relevant but perhaps least-taught maths in schools. They have so many real-world consequences about how people think about everyday risk. And yet.

That is fine. I would argue that not learning enough about human fallibility and foibles will more likely be a handicap than probability and statistics. Proficiency in ‘Decision Tree’ analysis may give a false sense of complacency that they have mapped our uncertainty when all that they have done would be to map out risks.

People who are exceptionally good at one thing tend to be exceptionally bad at other things, but if you’re good at one thing people will try to emulate everything you do.

Yes, excellence in one thing does not translate into  other fields. Neither the expert nor authors recognise this. Whose problem is it?

“It’s very common to be utterly brilliant and still think you’re way smarter than you actually are.” – Charlie Munger

Not sure what really the point of this is. How do we know? Who decides that someone is actually smart or not as he thinks or below that or above that? Is there an objective yardstick?

Being aware of one’s limitations, having some humility and not taking oneself too seriously will be practical and useful suggestions.

“Be more patient” in investing is the “sleep 8 hours” of health. It sounds too simple to take seriously but will probably make a bigger difference than anything else you do.

This is what I had said in my preamble. Contradicts the claim that patience can be construed as stubbornness. One bullet point contradicts the other.

If you don’t know why an asset has gone up you’ll probably be quick to bail when it goes down

Again, the outcome-specific statement. When facts change, bailing out quickly can also be said to be a sign of intellectual openness, a hallmark of not being wedded to stale facts and premises. Again, an outcome-based advice. Cannot be a general principle. Context-awareness and self-awareness are the key things.

Having said these, I found this particular rule the most appealing:

You’re not a machine, so don’t expect to always be rational. Aiming to be reasonable is the best anyone can do.

The second one I liked was this:

When asked what it takes to win a Nobel prize, Francis Crick said, “Oh, it’s very simple. My secret has been I know what to ignore.” Avoiding can be more important than finding.

This is consistent with the ‘Neti, neti, neti’ approach to divining the truth, ultimately. Second, it appeals to me because it captures the inherent asymmetry in our knowledge and ignorance. It is relatively easier to know what to avoid doing than to know what to do. For example, it is easy for the government to hurt people than to help them. So, getting out of the way is better and more likely to be helpful than to actively seek to help them. Again, I caution that these can only be broad generalisations. The rule about ‘context’ applies all the time.

Third, that is why I liked the original Google motto, ‘Don’t be evil’. ‘Doing good’ or ‘Do Good’ activists cause more harm. Hence, not being evil is very good, most of the time. Now, I don’t know whether Google ever lived up to it or continues to do. That is not the subject here. But, I liked the realism and the simplicity of it. That is why I liked what Francis Crick said.

The third one I liked is this:

Comedians are the best thought leaders because they understand how the world works but they want to make you laugh rather than making themselves feel smart.

This is good because it reminds us of humility. Second, it captures the truth about comedians. They are not thought of as intellectuals but they are. They are understated. So called ‘experts’ and ‘intellectuals’ are more focused on making themselves or parading themselves as smart.

Lastly, what Daniel Kahneman has said applies to a lot of us analysing or making sense of India:

“Human beings cannot comprehend very large or very small numbers. It would be useful for us to acknowledge that fact.” – Kahneman

It is not easy to make sense of India and what is going on because none of us have any (or, can have) idea of what 140 crores means.

Leeds first day pays back Lord’s fifth day

In case you wonder what the title is about, it is about how England repaid India at Leeds on the first day for what it received in Lord’s, over five days. Well, strictly speaking, I am not being very accurate here. England lost the test on the fifth day. So, it is Leeds first day for Lord’s fifth day.

There are not too many Test matches that are lost on the first day itself. But, this could be one of them. I will be happy if I turn out to have been too presumptuous. Even happier if my presumption is proven wrong not by the weather but by a show of steel, character and skill by the men in blue.

But, both batters and bowlers had a day off yesterday. I wrote in a blog post at the end of the Lord’s Test that consistency was not India’s strong suit. But, I did not expect to be proven right so quickly.

It will be good to check how many Test teams – in their heyday, as India thinks it is – ended up scoring less than 100 in a space of a year and the year is not over yet for India. First in Dec. 2020 (19th Dec.) and then now in August, on the 25th. Little over eight months. Let us see.

The jingoism, the triumphalism and the excessively fulsome praise (quite a bit of that was deserved – Rahul, Rohit, Ajinkya, Cheteshwar, Shami and Bumrah) that the team received from commentators and cricket sites (I don’t read too many general purpose newspapers in India these days) made me squirm a bit.

I was particularly struck by the over-the-top criticism of the English team by Sunil Gavaskar who said that the English team was about 2.5 players and that India would steamroll them in the next three tests. That was really tempting fate. Well, we know that he succeeded in doing so.

How does it feel to be dismissed for 78 by a team of 2.5 players and to let a team of 2.5 players (almost all of them have not batted yet!) get to 120 without the loss of a single wicket?!

Swagger is fine. But, first one should let the willow and the leather do the talking and the wagging consistently before tongues and keyboards take over. If we cannot do that – the rinse-lather-repeat – cycle, it is good not to overdo the ‘swagger’ stuff.

I am all for ruthless efficiency, hunger to win and aggression. But, it is important to show them where it matters – on the field and with deeds. Importantly, game after game. Well, almost. If not, it is better to show at least a bit of balance.

For instance, the Indian captain Virat Kohli’s final remarks at the end of the Lord’s Test could have been like this:

We are thrilled to win a Test match at Lord’s and that too by such a huge margin. All credit to the boys. They rose to the occasion. They only had 55 to 60 overs to bowl England out and the bowlers really stepped up to the plate. I am very happy with our pace bowling attack. They are now a match for the best in the world. Of course, if they do it consistently, then the team would be a world beater for a long time.

The way Chatty and Jinx batted on the fourth evening turned things around for us. We started believing in our chances after they struck a century partnership. Full credit to them. Of course, without Rahul and Rohit in the first innings, we would not have been in the match at all.

I am not forgetting that, on a session-by-session basis, at the end of day 4, England was ahead of us. Joe Root is a class act. His consistency in the last year or so has been remarkable. Hats off to him.

While we are very happy with the victory, we cannot forget that a similar early win did not result in a series victory for us in 2018. We won the third test but lost the next two. The England team is very good. They have some very high quality players. Their bowling attack may be a bit depleted but they are very formidable, esp. in English conditions. So, we are not taking anything for granted.

We have to win and win consistently to match the glorious record of the West Indies and Australia in the last few decades. I am aware that we have a long way to go.

But, congratulations to the boys and good luck to England!

Remember India did well in Australia in Dec.2020-Jan.2021 because India was considered an underdog and we came back from behind. The hunger that goes with being the underdog somehow serves many athletes and teams better than the complacency and the arrogance that accompany the feeling of being the top dog.

The Indian team management, the commentators, the journalists and the cheer-leaders would do well to remember that. 

Swagger must follow deeds and not the other way around.

Travel Advisory?!

I recall reading a chapter in the English class during my B.Com days in American College, Madurai between 1980 and 1983.

It was titled, ‘On Seeing Off’ by Max Beerbohm. It described, with good humour, the awkwardness that marks most conversations between the passengers sitting inside a train and the hosts who come to see them off. Both will be facing many moments of silence and both will be waiting for the train to flag off to put an end to their misery.

[I found the essay here.]

There will be professional seers-off who would be carrying out the conversation very professionally and even with a nice blend of personal touch.

So went that essay.

This was set in England.

We, in India, are never short of conversation topics. In fact, we would be doing it until the train reaches the next station!

Now, with air travel, it has become obligatory for the departing family members to offer sage counsel to those staying behind. It is an interesting experience to observe.

In the last half an hour, there will be enough advice to last a lifetime and on leading a purposeful, meaningful, fun-filled, fulfilling and spiritual and healthy life, all packed into a short time frame.

The weight attached to each of these components would vary depending on the person addressed.

It serves many purposes. It makes the person dishing out the advice feel good, feel important and feel superior. It gives the impression that they care deeply about the person being addressed, even though they may not have spent much time with them during the entire stay. So, the guilt is assuaged.

More importantly, there is only a small chance that they would be contradicted or challenged. Most ‘staying back’ personnel – close family members – will be reluctant to enter into an argument with the family member who is leaving. They would like to make sure that the goodbye is cordial, warm and affectionate.

This is a double bonus for those who are liberal with their advice. The lack of challenge makes them feel that they have said something important, correct and even profound!

This is the Travel Advisory service!

(p.s: I am sending this from Chennai airport on Aug. 26 leaving for Singapore after a four-week visit to Chennai and Coimbatore, visiting mom in CBT and in-laws and siblings in Chennai.)

When I shared this post with friends over email, one of them sent me a link to the hilarious essay by Stephen Leacock on opening a bank account. I recall reading it long ago. I should read it again. You can find it here.

Learning how to lose

Ok, the two-week show is over. It felt good while it lasted. Every night from 9 PM to 1 AM for the last two weeks, there was good escape from thinking about fuel prices in India, stock market and real estate bubbles, about Greek variants of an unknown virus, whose origin cannot be spelt out but whose variants can be traced to specific geographies, etc. It was time to forget about all that for about 4 + hours. Have to get back to some reading now! Or, until the India-England Test matches start in August.

Obviously, my observations are based on what I watched in those four hours or more precisely what Fox Sports chose to televise. So, I am not a witness to the prodigious young talent of Emma Raducanu as some of the unbiased (?) British writers write in wimbledon.com nor to the heroic comeback attempt of Andy Murray. The latter has my best wishes, of course. To be a three-time Wimbledon finalist and a two-time winner is no mean feat. The ball always comes back from Andy. I think Boris Becker said it about Novak yesterday. I felt it is truer of Andy.

Nor are my views biased because I have no favourites. I am no fan of any player. I like to watch good tennis or, in general, good entertainment. When national teams are involved, one may feel a bit more involved but even that is fading with age and correctly so. So, you can read and nod or shrug your shoulders and move on. This is just one man’s observations and vastly subjective.

I must confess to feeling a bit sad about not paying much attention to Ons Jabeur. I saw her beat Muguruza and lose to Sabalenka. She came across as a fighter. But, did not apply my mind to thinking more about her game. She is from Tunisia. Such countries need role models. That is the role that Novak plays with respect to Serbia.

Novak and Matteo had a scrappy match. The match did not reach great heights in terms of quality of tennis it produced. Both made too many errors and they were not at their consistent best. The first-serve % of both the players was in the sixties. Matteo made any errors on his forehand, his strong suit. Novak’s shot selection at critical points was perplexing. He contrived to lose the first set. Having begun the match with a double-fault, he managed to hold on to his serve and come up 5-2. He allowed Matteo back into the game. It was an encore in the second set. This time he prevailed 6-4. Third set was not particularly memorable either. Only in the fourth, did Novak give some glimpses of why he is the world champion.

In fact, Novak deserved the title for the way he played against Shapovalov in the semi-finals. Shapovalov gift-wrapped the first set and gave it to Novak. Novak had no answer to his brilliance. He was a passenger. Shapovalov won and lost the first set. It was more or less the same story in the second but now Novak was beginning to establish a bit of a presence in the match. Even then, in every service game of Novak, Shapovalov had break points. I was disappointed that the young man lost both the sets and I went off to sleep. Novak was correct and generous in his praise. Shapovalov deserved to win. But, Novak deserves praise for ‘batting down the hatches’ as a commentator kept saying.

Indeed, the achievement of a great athlete is not in winning when things are going their way but in the way they overcome a tough challenge. Novak demonstrated that amply that day. That is why he deserved the championship on Sunday.

Shapovalov could have blown many away that day. He was in a little bit of a hurry to finish off points. They say that he has matured a lot. I believe so. With a little more patience, he can go places.

In the other semi-finals, Matteo was all over Hubert. His serve and forehand were in devastating form and maintained the consistency throughout the match. As a report in Wimbledon.com or Tennis.com pointed out, his serve never deserted him even once in the match. Perhaps, he served one double-fault in the final game of the match. That Hubert took a set off him on that day speaks highly of his potential too. Matteo did not play this consistently well against Felix Auger-Aliassime or, for that matter, in the finals. He has some distance to go.

Some said that Hubert was no good. I disagree. Hubert did not have luck and that is because Matteo forced him to rely on luck. When players miss the lines by a hair’s breadth, we say that they were unlucky. We should pause to think if the opponent’s game and skill had anything to do with it. It was the case with Matteo that day. He pushed Hubert to look for winners on the edges of the court, near the tramlines and with acute angles. Naturally, the risk of failure rises. But, these four guys – Matteo, Felix, Hubert and Denis – together with Tsitsipas and Zverev constitute pretty good young talent.

Ashley Barty was the deserving champion. She was one cool customer. She is never out of the match even when the opponent is posing hard questions. She has an all-court game and all the strokes for all the surfaces. Angelique Kerber could not get past her. Now, age is catching up with her. Not sure how long will she be around. But, she lost to a really great player who was a bit too much in the semi-finals. Karolina impressed me in both the SF and in the finals. The way she soaked up Sabalenka’s imposing presence across the net and her on-again and off-again shotmaking was admirable. Pliskova gives the appearance of being languorous but she is calculating all the time. She is mostly unruffled. She showed that in both the matches. Especially in the finals when she took nearly fifteen minutes to get just one point in the match.

To come back from that start and take the match to three sets showed some class. Her remarks in the post-match interview were a gem:

Q. You said earlier that you know how to lose. I was wondering have you always known how to lose? How has that changed over your career?

KAROLINA PLISKOVA: No, no, not always. I think that’s something what you have to also learn. I mean, to know how to win and to know how to lose, you need to learn that.

But, I mean, believe me, I think all the big champions and all the big names, they need to learn this. They need to know how to also, like, lose. In the end somebody has to lose. I don’t want to be like behaving like the way, I don’t know, some people are just being like desperate or being super down. Of course, you can be down, but just don’t show it to the people because they don’t really want to see this. Be down in your room, but not really like in front of the crowd.

I think also to accept that maybe somebody played better that day, or somebody is a bit better, for no matter for which reason, I think is also important. Yeah, I just know how to do that. [Link]

All in all, it was good to delight in the world of skills on the court and admire them for their exploits on grass. It was great to see some of them transcend human foibles and follies and not merely the limitations of their game.

[Postscript: In my previous post, I have mentioned wrongly that Novak and Shapovalov were engaged in some tussle with the officialdom. Well, it is not Shapovalov. It is Pospisil. It is about fees for players, in general. It is not about prize-money for the final four or eight. I don’t have a view on the matter. But, here is a link to an interesting news-article in the New York Times on the subject.

All my expectations mentioned in that previous post as to who would come to the finals and who would win the title have turned out to be wrong. Good.]

Tales and thoughts from the Tennis Town

As the match between Hubert Hurkacz and Roger Federer was about to begin, my thoughts drifted back to the summer of 2019. I was in England to watch the cricket world cup semifinals and finals. On the day of the finals, I was at the Lord’s cricket ground watching a thriller unfold in front of my eyes. New Zealand was robbed of a historic win by a strange rule and a possible umpiring error. Some of my friends whose eyes were watching the epic contest on the cricket ground, found their hearts at the Wimbledon Centre Court. Their hero, Roger Federer, was waging his own battle against Novak Djokovic. For all practical purposes, it looked like Federer had the better game that day and yet Novak hung on, to win the title. My friends were crestfallen.

I thought this year was going to witness another Novak-Roger slugfest in the finals on Sunday. Roger had hardly broken sweat in his serene march to the quarter finals. Novak had just dismissed the challenge from the spirited Hungarian in the first quarter finals of the day. It may be a well-worn expression but Hubert had other ideas. After watching the match, I feel that Hubert is a silent assassin. He does not display too much histrionics or theatrics on court. Good for him.

But, his speed of movement is deceptive. His movements are languorous. But, he gets there and retrieves them all. Well, almost. Several points – as good as given up by other players – ended up on his side of the ledger. When Federer broke early in the second set, I switched to watching the high-octane Khachanov-Shapovalov thriller. But, Roger had surrendered the early lead. HH made Roger lose heart with his amazing shot-making and solid serve. In the third set, Roger seemed to lose heart. He did not try to play many balls. He had given up. But, to beat Roger Federer, even when he is nearing 40, on a Wimbledon centre court 6-0 in the quarter final, must count as the man’s biggest achievements even if Hubert Hurkacz goes on to win more titles in his career. I back him to be in the final, getting the better of Berrettini.

I watched the first two sets of the match between Berrettini and the 20-year old, immensely talented Felix Auger-Aliassime. The Canadian lad has a bright future. Well, that is an easy statement to make. He is a fighter and he plays with a big heart and a brain that belies his age. Berrettini should have been 2-0 in the first two sets when he fluffed two break points to go 5-3 and serve out the set. In the end, he lost the second set 5-7. It was time to hit the bed. Looks like he has shown character to win the next two. Good for him. Somehow, I got the impression that he makes too many unforced errors. He does not seem to have the consistency in shot-making that is needed to win big matches on big occasions against big players. Well, that is my limited observation based on, admittedly, limited evidence.

The semi-final match-up between Novak and Denis Shapovalov could be the final for all purposes. The latter has speed, energy, spirit and a great range of shot-making off the forehand and backhand. I was mighty impressed. Considering how well Khachanov played, he would have beaten many players on Wednesday. But, he came up against Shapovalov.I understand that Djokovic and Shapovalov are aligned on some matter involving the officialdom. (This is not correct. It is Novak Djokovic and Pospisil, another Canadian player. Sorry about that).  But, I doubt if that affinity or alignment will be on display in the Centre Court on Friday. It is the electric Shapovalov vs. the doughty Djokovic. For all his record and determination, my money will be on Denis Shapovalov. I might be influenced by the recent evidence. Human tendency is to overweight recent evidence and ignore a long and distinguished record. I accept the criticism.

I feel that the time for the torch to pass on appears to have arrived. We had Andy Murray making a brave comeback but did not succeed. He is a two-time winner and a three-times finalist. Nadal did not compete this time. Federer is unsure of his Wimbledon future and rightly so. The game is high-powered with oversized racket heads and the tours are relentless. It takes a toll and the burnout rate is high. For Novak, Rafael and Roger to last as long as they have is an immense achievement. Especially Roger. The other two are still younger. So, let us see if it is a Shapovalov-Hurkacz final on Sunday. That is my expectation.

The men’s circuit seems to be full of talent while the women’s circuit appears to lack exciting players. I could be wrong here. Are women players fading out too quickly? I don’t see too many of them display the staying power on the circuit as the three gents have. The Williams sisters were the last of such a tribe, it appears.

Of course, full credit to Angelique Kerber to make a determined quest for the title. To beat Serena in straight sets in 2018 would have taken some doing even though Serena might have just about peaked and the declining phase might have commenced. Two years before that in 2016, she had lost in straight sets to Serena. Now, 2021 could be her turn, even though Ashley Barty appears bubbly, charming and has good court coverage. She is as comfortable at the net as she is at rallying from the baseline. But, Kerber seems more resolute and her retrieval capabilities are tremendous. The angles she can create in her shots are breathtaking. It is hard to relax against her. Even when she seems out, she finds it in her to claw her way back into a match. As does Novak. Novak has done it time and again. My money is on Kerber to win the women’s title this year.

If my amateur punditry has any substance in it, then I expect Angelique Kerber to lift the plate on Saturday and Denis Shapovalov to lift the cup on Sunday.

After losing the match, in his press conference, Roger Federer said this:

“Clearly there’s still a lot of things missing in my game that maybe 10, 15, 20 years ago were very simple and very normal for me to do. Nowadays they don’t happen naturally anymore. I got to always put in the extra effort mentally to remember to do this or do that. I have a lot of ideas on the court, but sometimes I can’t do what I want to do. [Link]

Once a player feels that way, he is perhaps ready to go. That candid observation made me recall a similar observation made by an astute cricket observer in 2019 after India lost the semi-final clash against New Zealand narrowly in Manchester in the World Cup cricket tournament. He said that MS Dhoni’s mind still makes the calculations needed to win matches off his own bat in the last two overs but that the ability of the body to translate those calculations into winning sums was waning.

Roger Federer’s ability to figure out where his body and mind stand is praiseworthy.

Two tidbits to close this post:

One is the comment made by Novak Djokovic on ‘wolf energy’. Several people I know believe in ‘wolf energy’.

Djokovic hailed his family roots for his on-court passion, which was evident on Court One, as well as the struggles in growing up in Serbia in the 1990s during the Balkans conflict.

“Part of it is genes. We grew up in difficult times for my country and failure was never an option,” he said.

“We had to find basic ways to survive, that strengthened my character.

“Also my upbringing in the mountains I spent a lot of time with wolves — this is wolf energy. I’m not kidding.” [Link]

Lastly, the controversy over John McEnroe’s remarks on Emma Raducanu’s withdrawal from the pre-quarter final match due to her physical discomfort is both needless and manufactured. He was not harsh. He sympathised with her. He said that the situation might have gotten to her. The statement that the player released the next morning appeared to vindicate what he said. She had felt overwhelmed and that manifested in physical discomfort.

She is young and she will learn and she will be all the stronger for it.

Such observations are what senior, experienced and capable ‘Guru’s (teachers) would offer to their wards/students/disciples. They may sound harsh but they are usually accurate and are steps on the ladder to success and glory. No point in taking umbrage at them. That is what a Guru is for.

[Postscript: I must disagree with the comments made by friend TCA Srinivasa Raghavan on the relative attractiveness of tennis and cricket in this article. I love both the games and I must disagree with his views on tennis over cricket.]

Humility over hubris

I woke up this morning and checked my in-box. The usual ‘Business Standard’ daily morning briefing was there. I saw an article with a brief description about hubris and humility. These issues fascinate me. Human frailty, fragility and behavioural quirks and features greatly fascinate me. In another setting, I might have avoided doing a Management Degree, a Ph.D in Exchange Rates, etc and become a psychologist, perhaps! Who knows? Anyway, ‘what if’ questions are always interesting.

But, the funny part of it was that while I scrolled the mail for other headlines, I missed seeing this one again. I searched frantically and I could not locate it. It is not possible. So, I thought I would search in the internet and I found several other articles.

In the meantime, I did find the article that emphasised humility over hubris. It is written by my friend R. Jagannathan (‘Jaggi’). It is well written. In fact, it is top-drawer stuff for many of its ‘tongue-in-cheek’ elements. His main subject matter, the Finance Minister of Tamil Nadu, has indeed been talking too much and talking a little too abrasively. Not necessary.

That said, I did like his prepared remarks made (or was not made) at the GST Council Meeting on the 28th May 2021. They were substantive. My personal view is that he should let his work and intellect speak for themselves.

My friend Harikiran Vadlamani (HKV), the man and the brain behind Indic Academy (check it out) shared this once:

Humility is a strange thing – the moment you think you have it, you’ve lost it! – Swami Chinmayananda

Hubris is even stranger – the moment you think you don’t have it, you have gained it ! – HKV

They are cute and, yes, they are simplistic. But, yes, they are also exaggerations that make a point. That is what exaggerations are for.

If we think about it, we often say accusingly or disapprovingly, that someone is so full of himself or herself. But, there is a flip side and a positive one at that. Only those who have an irrational self-belief or self-confidence will defy odds, will do and achieve things that reasonable people won’t or won’t even try. They are the disruptors and change agents – for the better or for the worse. What is funny or sad – depending on the effect on the world – is that those who do such odds-defying feats eventually end up being change agents for the worse. They continue to disrupt all right but the larger good suffers.

So, for the rest of us, it is important to remember that people who are full of themselves are the ones who change the paradigm (sorry for the cliched expression) and who achieve things beyond the three-sigma range. Most of us will be calculating odds and will never even attempt them.  But, at some stage, the self-belief become delusional and the decline begins. But, they are too proud and too consumed by their self-belief to notice it even. That is how the cookie crumbles or has crumbled in history.

It would all be nice if they know when to switch from being disruptors to being ‘maintainers’. The latter requires reasonable, risk-averse behaviour.  But, that is as rare as it is desirable and admirable.

We can start with a definition of hubris:

The simplest definition for the word “hubris” is dangerous overconfidence. But the word has additional nuanced complexities. It’s an ancient Greek word that also included taking pleasure out of humiliating others and even encompassed a connotation of sexual conquest and exploitation. Hubris, according to the Greeks, is an insult to humility and epitomizes insolence to the gods. [Link]

Christopher Bergland writes:

Believing that you possess both the power of Atlas and are as insignificance as an Ant is a difficult paradox for the human ego to navigate, but it is the key to being extraordinary. A lot of athletes are incapable of doing this. I’ve struggled with it myself over the years. [Link]

These brief lines from Scott Miller (part of the blog of Franklin Covey) were interesting:

As you’re climbing up, throw a rope down and lift them up with you. Encourage them to climb above you. If you’re confident in both your character and competence, your shoulders can handle some weight….. Remember, humble leaders are more concerned with what is right than being right. [Link]

Dr. Steven Berglas of the Harvard Medical School wrote this in 2014 for the Harvard Business Review:

Hubris, … is a reactive disorder: Either the unfortunate consequence of endless laudatory press clippings leading to supreme over-confidence, or the culmination of a winning streak that causes a person to suffer the transient delusion that he is bullet-proof. Many good people will, under bad circumstances, suffer from hubris— but they tend to recover after toppling from their pedestals shrinks their egos back down to size.

Of course, one way for hubris to be reined in is for leaders to create and institutionalise mechanisms for someone to play the devil’s advocate, communicate freely and challenge the established view in a group setting. It is not without its pitfalls. Some may take advantage of it and may think that the leader is weak. Alternatively, some may try to poison the leader’s mind about the ‘naysayer’ (even if the leader had appointed him or her to be a naysayer). It is not easy.

Also, conformity is hard-coded in  us as this book extract says. It is from ‘Meltdown: why our systems fail and what we can do about it?’:

“We show that a deviation from the group opinion is regarded by the brain as a punishment,” said the study’s lead author, Vasily Klucharev. And the error message combined with a dampened reward signal produces a brain impulse indicating that we should adjust our opinion to match the consensus. Interestingly, this process occurs even if there is no reason for us to expect any punishment from the group. As Klucharev put it, “This is likely an automatic process in which people form their own opinion, hear the group view, and then quickly shift their opinion to make it more compliant with the group view.”…. Our tendency for conformity can literally change what we see….

….And when people went against the group, there was a surge in activity in brain regions involved in the processing of emotionally charged events. This was the emotional cost of standing up for one’s beliefs; the researchers called it “the pain of independence.”

When we shift our opinions to conform, we’re not lying. We may not even be conscious that we’re giving in to others. What’s happening is something much deeper, something unconscious and uncalculated: our brain lets us avoid the pain of standing alone. [Link]

In other words, it is not just the hubristic person but even people around him or her are hard-wired to encourage hubristic tendencies.

They add:

And listening to a dissenting voice can be as hard as speaking up….

It turns out that the effect of being challenged — of having your opinions rejected or questioned — isn’t just psychological. Research shows that there is a real, physical impact on the body. Your heart beats faster and your blood pressure rises. Your blood vessels narrow as if to limit the bleeding that might result from an injury in an impending fight. Your skin turns pale, and your stress level skyrockets. It’s the same reaction you would have if you were walking in the jungle and suddenly spotted a tiger.

This primal fight-or-flight response makes it hard to listen. And, according to an experiment conducted at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, things get even worse when we are in a position of authority….

….that even the faintest sense of power — being in charge of something clearly inconsequential — can corrupt. And it’s just one of many studies drawing the same conclusion. Research shows that when people are in a position of power, or even just have a sense of power, they are more likely to misunderstand and dismiss others’ opinions, more likely to interrupt others and speak out of turn during discussions, and less willing to accept advice — even from experts.

In fact, having power is a bit like having brain damage. As Keltner put it, “people with power tend to behave like patients who have damaged their brain’s orbitofrontal lobes,” a condition that can cause insensitive and overly impulsive behaviour. [Link]

The extract then goes on to give two examples. One is the case of a dentist where he had empowered the receptionist to challenge him and direct him to take a look at a patient. He does so and sends him for treatment immediately to a heart centre because the man was experiencing symptoms of an ongoing heart attack and his family had a history of heart attacks.

The second example is that of cockpit authority and airline crashes. Passengers were safer when the less experienced pilot was flying the plane:

Of course, it’s not that captains were poor pilots. But when the captain was the flying pilot, he (and most often it was a “he”) was harder to challenge. His mistakes went unchecked. In fact, the report found that the most common error during major accidents was the failure of first officers to question the captain’s poor decisions. In the reverse situation, when the first officer was flying the plane, the system worked well. The captain raised concerns and pointed out mistakes and helped the flying pilot understand complex situations. But this dynamic worked only in one direction.

This is indeed an apt conclusion:

But learning to embrace dissent is hard. When Crew Resource Management was introduced, many pilots thought it was useless psychobabble. They called it “charm school” and felt it was an absurd attempt to teach them how to be warm and fuzzy. But as more and more accident investigations revealed how failures to speak up and listen led to disasters, attitudes began to shift. Charm school for pilots has become one of the most powerful safety interventions ever designed.

A paper written by Nassim N. Taleb, Daniel G. Goldstein, and Mark W. Spitznagel in the Harvard Business Review in 2009 on the six mistakes in risk management is related to listening and speaking up, in a way.

The six mistakes are:

(1) We think we can manage risk by predicting extreme events

(2) We are convinced that studying the past will help us manage risk

(3) We don’t listen to advice about what we shouldn’t do

(4) We assume that risk can be measured by standard deviation

(5) We don’t appreciate that what’s mathematically equivalent isn’t psychologically so

(6) We are taught that efficiency and maximizing shareholder value don’t tolerate redundancy

I like (3) followed by (5). The whole article is here.

In conclusion, let us spare a thought for our hubristic leaders. Conformity is easy. Speaking up is hard. Listening is harder. We are wired to conform. We are not wired to speak up nor to listen. So, hubris has to be the default! Worse, we don’t even know if, on many occasions, the shoe is on the other foot!

Languish vs. Dormant

Psychologist Adam Grant had given a label, ‘languish’ to the feeling of ‘blah!’ that many have felt and continue to feel in the last twelve months. Several friends, with whom I shared the article, felt that it described their own state of mind accurately.

These are the key extracts of that article:

Languishing is the neglected middle child of mental health. It’s the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being. You don’t have symptoms of mental illness, but you’re not the picture of mental health either. You’re not functioning at full capacity. Languishing dulls your motivation, disrupts your ability to focus, and triples the odds that you’ll cut back on work. It appears to be more common than major depression — and in some ways it may be a bigger risk factor for mental illness.

The term was coined by a sociologist named Corey Keyes, who was struck that many people who weren’t depressed also weren’t thriving. His research suggests that the people most likely to experience major depression and anxiety disorders in the next decade aren’t the ones with those symptoms today. They’re the people who are languishing right now. And new evidence from pandemic health care workers in Italy shows that those who were languishing in the spring of 2020 were three times more likely than their peers to be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Part of the danger is that when you’re languishing, you might not notice the dulling of delight or the dwindling of drive. You don’t catch yourself slipping slowly into solitude; you’re indifferent to your indifference. When you can’t see your own suffering, you don’t seek help or even do much to help yourself. [Link]

He notes that giving oneself uninterrupted time and focusing on small goals are antidotes to languishing. But, some of the answers may be a case of Catch-22.  But, I liked this last line and therein lies the clue to why mental illnesses are not attended to at all. We are in denial of them all the time. Almost all of us:

We still live in a world that normalizes physical health challenges but stigmatizes mental health challenges

There was a response to this article by who wrote that he was not languishing but that he was consciously dormant. Of course, the moment one is conscious of what one is doing, they cannot be languishing.

This is a fair point:

But one has to remember that naming doesn’t just describe the world, it creates the world, too. As Brian Eno says, “Giving something a name can be just the same as inventing it.” 

In these lines, it looks like he is trying to make a case for acceptance as an answer to the situation we face:

It seems to me that the reason that so many of us feel like we’re languishing is that we are trying to flourish in terrible conditions. It is spring outside — or the “unlocking” season — but it is still “Winter in America,” and, as any gardener knows, if you try to wake a plant out of dormancy too soon, it will wither, and maybe die.

in other words, there is a time to lie low and not do anything and such dormancy is a part of flourishing when the conditions are propitious. Being patient when conditions are not propitious and respecting the reality that there will be winters and then springs, etc., is what he is alluding to here:

It is a mistake and a misreading of nature to think that you, a living creature, will be flourishing all the days of your life.

We learn, from the article that Michelangelo lost four years of work to dealing with a lawsuit. In other words, stuff happens.

I like both the articles for different reasons. Adam Grant’s article helps people recognise what they might be going through. They do not have to feel very worried. They will feel a bit better that it is rather commonplace and widespread, in these times. The response by Austin Kleon too is good in the sense that, indirectly, it makes the case for acceptance and not resisting what cannot be resisted or what may not be possible to resist.