2011 has been an amazing year on so many dimensions:
- Our second son, Aniket (a.k.a. one who makes the whole world his home), was born on June 13. Aditya (a.k.a. the Sun), our other son who is almost 3, started going to pre-school, where he is learning Mandarin (he goes to a Mandarin immersion program where he is the only kid who does not have Mandarin speaking parents – we already feel the pressure to learn:-)). Parenting is humbling, exhilarating, exhausting, frustrating and incredibly rewarding all at the same time.
- After 10 years at Barclays Global Investors (BGI)/BlackRock, my wife, Pooja, started Nipun Capital in the fall. Nipun (a.k.a. skilled) is an Asia focused asset management firm that Pooja co-founded along with Dr. Charles Lee, the Former Head of Research at BGI who is now a Professor at Stanford’s GSB. In 4 months, they have hired an amazing product team, raised angel funding and they are on the verge of launching their first product, an institutional quality Total Return Fund. Watching Pooja set up Nipun has been an enriching experience for me: I have so much more empathy for start-up founders, and the roller coaster that they ride every day.
- I had the privilege of seeing one of my portfolio companies, TreeHouse which is India’s leading pre-school education company, go public on the Indian stock exchanges. In addition, in 2011, I led an investment into Aggregate Knowledge (audience and campaign analytics for digital media) and joined the board of Conviva (experience management for online video). I also became a General Partner at Foundation Capital, earlier this year. I am thrilled to join the partnership, and look forward to continuing to invest in exceptional people and their plans to change the world.
As I was reflecting on the whirlwind that 2011 has been for me, I came across a blog post by Elliot Ng which really struck a chord. In it, Elliot describes his “3 words to help guide 2012”. What appealed to me about the concept of the 3 words was that they were guiding pillars vs. specific goals or objectives. Chris Brogan who introduced the concept to Elliot described them as “helping you the way that a lighthouse helps a ship in a storm”. Ideally they are themes that are evocative of a personal vision, and a compass by which to set direction for day to day goals, and tasks. As soon as I read Chris’s post, I set about to identify my 3 words for 2012. They may not mean much for you. Or they may mean very different things to you. That’s OK. These words are only meant to guide me on my journey.
My 3 Words for 2012: Introspect, Intentional, Re-wire
In my universe, Introspect ties several concepts together – self-reflection, Deliberate Practice, blogging, and learning from every interaction with the entrepreneurs and CEOs I work with every day. I have always been a fan of self-analysis tools like MBTI (if you are curious, I am an ENTP) and StrengthFinder. I find that they create a framework for a dialog with myself. They help pull together and verbalize insights and observations about myself that I have put away in some corner of my brain. Yet these tools are just a starting point. In 2012, I want to find a way to do a better job of learning from every interaction that I have. I want to learn from every entrepreneur that I chose not to fund. And I want to learn from every time that I blow my top. Most of all, I want to distil those learnings to do better the next time.
The notion of Deliberate Practice is something that I am still getting my arms around. I have always been somewhat skeptical of Gladwell’s 10,000 hour theory, and very dubious of the idea that with 10,000 hours of effort, anyone could come up with the Theory of Relativity. Given my skepticism, this post about Deliberate Practice really struck a chord with me. The post cites a 2005 study of chess players that found that “serious study“ — the arduous task of reviewing past games of better players, trying to predict each move in advance — was the strongest predictor of chess skill. The article makes the case that key to exceptional performance is identifying what constitutes Diliberate Practice in your chosen field of endeavor. I have chosen to be a venture investor, helping exceptional people build enduring and valuable companies. And so, as part of introspecting in 2012, I would like to better understand what constitutes Diliberate Practice for a venture investor.
I am an infrequent blogger. Its been almost a year since I wrote something. As a result, people often ask me why I blog at all. After all, given how infrequently I post, I am unlikely to ever develop much of an audience for my blog. For me, that’s irrelevant. I love the fact that you are reading this blog post and hope to get feedback from you. Yet, I write for myself. I blog as a way to synthesize ideas floating around in my head. I blog to force myself to take a stand, to expose what I am thinking to others and get feedback. Well, in 2012, as I introspect more, I hope to blog more often.
Elliot also used the word Intentional and so when I started this process, I tried hard to stay away from it. I came up several words that evoked the theme that I was looking for – Deliberate (the adjective), Organized, Purposeful, Prioritize, Pro-active, Balance. Yet none of them fully captured the idea or also evoked concepts that did not resonate for me. For example, I liked purposeful, but for me, it also minimizes the serendipity which is so core to who I am and what I do. I liked Deliberate, but as a verb, its meaning is similar to introspect. And so after a lot of meandering, I finally settled on Intentional. For me, Intentional evokes 2 broad concepts – the notion of being proactive and the notion of balance.
- Proactive. Like many people, I get more mail than I can ever respond to. I get more requests for meetings than there are hours in the day. And so I find myself reacting to in-bound requests for much of the time. I try to prioritize, and am slowly learning to say no. Yet, that is only the beginning. For me, being proactive means making a conscious effort to allocate my time to reflect my priorities and goals. It means setting aside the urgent to focus on the truly important. It means giving up immediate gratification for more enduring rewards. For me, it often means not watching one more episode of the The Big Bang Theory late at night so that I can get up early and go to the gym the next morning. It means making the time to attend a Churchhill club event that is not directly related to anything I am doing today. And it means saying no to all those cookies in the kitchen at 4 PM when I desperately need a sugar high!
- Balance. I have always been an intense person, with the tendency to focus all my energies on my current obsession. Sometimes, that results in my making choices that may seem reckless to others, such as when I skipped an exam in college because I was in the middle of re-reading Eric Segal’s Love Story for the nth time. In my 20s, it was easier to channelize all my energies on the few things that I cared about at any point in time. Today, I find that I need to balance my varied professional passions, my multiple family commitments (kids, wife, mother) and my personal interests. Yet, for me, its not about doing a little bit of everything. Its about being more deliberate about where I engage, and about being more purposeful about my bursts of intensity.
I have always been fascinated by the idea that the human brain is capable of constantly re-wiring itself. I have always been paranoid about being struck in my own little box, about developing blinders over time. And so, I have sought and reveled in new ideas, people and fresh connections. I am fortunate that my job as a venture capitalist exposes me to new people and ideas every day. And yet, over time, those networks tend to get incestous. In fact, the more “intentional” I get, the less likely it is that I will invest time/energy in engaging with a random person or idea. And so, even as I seek to be more intentional in 2012, I hope to engineer more serendipitous encounters with exceptional people out-side my networks who are working on life changing ideas in areas that I know nothing about.
Re-wiring may mean being more deliberate about attending conferences, something I have generally avoided in the past because of the needle in a haystack problem. Re-wiring may mean diving deep into a completely new area of technology. Or it may mean learning to play chess or swim in my 40s.
I will figure out I will do as the year unfolds. And that is the beauty of the 3 words process. Its about defining guiding pillars upfront, while giving yourself the flexibility to make lots of decisions along the way.
And so, to wrap up, my 3 words are: Introspect, Intentional and Re-wire. I am excited about using them as lighthouses, helping me navigate the storm that is life. If you are excited by the idea, and do end up writing your own 3 words for 2012, do tell me about them.