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How a poor villager’s story from the Indian desert taught me human-centered design

Today’s story takes me back a decade ago when I was at the Northpoint Centre of Learning doing my post-grad in Marketing, Media, and Communications. One day, I had the chance to participate in a workshop by Mr. Premjeet Sodhi, the President of Lintas Media Group at the time.

In that workshop, Premjeet shared a beautiful story with us about empathy and curiosity. Today, I’m going to paraphrase it for you to the best of my memory because it contains a very important lesson on becoming a better designer, marketer, and advisor.

The Power of Curiosity and Empathy

Premjeet started by telling us about the time he was doing his MBA and his professor gave the class an assignment. After dividing the students into groups, the professor gave them a simple task by saying:

“There is a poor villager in the middle of the Indian desert who lives in an old hut. He is a farmer with very little resources who barely makes enough money to survive. So, what is your strategy to help him?”

The students quickly huddled in groups and started working on their strategy. At the end of the day, they presented their ideas with much fanfare! They were all about giving the farmer government funds, providing him with a tractor, giving him access to clean water to drink and use for irrigation, fertilizers for crops, some cows and goats, more land, education, etc.

At the end of the final presentation, the professor asked a question that blew everyone’s minds: “Did anyone bother to ask what the farmer wants?”

Just like that, this professor taught his students how important it is to get curious (about finding the right problem to solve) and show empathy before scrambling to find solutions. This lesson has stayed with me through the years because it’s truly fundamental to what we do as designers, marketers, and advisors.

Human-Centered Design

“Human-centered design is a creative approach to problem-solving. It’s a process that starts with the people you’re designing with and ends with new solutions that are purpose-built to suit their needs. Human-centered design is about cultivating deep empathy with the people you’re designing with; generating ideas; building a bunch of prototypes; sharing what you’ve made together; and eventually, putting your innovative new solution out in the world.” — IDEO

In other words, human-centered design puts the farmer at the heart of everything and asks what he wants. Then, it leverages that information to deliver the best possible product or service.
Human-centered design cultivates empathy for the people that are meant to benefit from the design and it gives us a creative boost that inspires us to generate different ideas, create a variety of prototypes, and share what we’ve made together before we land on an innovative solution.

As Steve Jobs once said:
“Some people say to give the customers what they want, but that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, ‘If I’d ask customers what they wanted, they would’ve told me they wanted a faster horse.’ People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.”

The Essence of Good Design

Good design puts humans first because products or services are meant to cater to people and their needs, to provide solutions, innovate, benefit, and make a positive impact on their life. If it fails at that, it’s because the people behind it failed to be empathetic and curious about the end-user.

As Frank Chimero, Brand & Product Designer, put it: “People ignore design that ignores people.”

Design also influences the way we use products, services, and technology, it gives everything shape and creates culture. This is why curiosity and empathy need to be at the center of the conversation before we get to the “making” part.

At the end of the day, we don’t need complicated or complex frameworks to focus on the end human experience of the products and services we provide or help sell. We just need to be curious and empathetic about the end-users to create something truly exceptional and life-altering.

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CEO Mindset — Strategy Masterclass with Steve Jobs (Apple) & Sandeep Goyal (Rediffusion)

The only thing standing between you and your success is your focus, willpower, and gameplay. So, what can you do to set yourself up for success?

The big game mentality theory by Dr. Sandeep Goyal depicts the difference between the winners and the runner-ups. It is a simple yet strategic mental model to separate big business tycoons from seasonal businessmen. 

Mr. Goyal described this mental model with a very simple analogy based on cricket. He said: “It’s like when a batsman goes up to the pitch and is surrounded by thousands of fans but is still able to focus on the ball and hit a sixer.” Cue Yuvraj Singh and the time he hit six sixes in a single game.

For most of us on the sidelines, we see the glam, the revenue, and the profit of the big businesses but often fail to see the struggles, the hurdles, the hard work, and the dedication in the bigger picture.

Similarly, entrepreneurs, starting on their journey, dream big but often overlook small or basic factors that can break or make their business. They shouldn’t forget punctuality, being transparent and honest, have a clear strategy, building the right culture, and having shared values and focusing on helping customers.

In a nutshell, the Big Game Mentality is all about focusing on your vision and not ignoring the small stuff. Little things matter and they go a long way in cementing how people perceive your business.

Takeaways from Steve Jobs’ Keynote

This conversation with Dr. Goyal reminded me of the keynote Steve Jobs made when he returned to Apple, where he talked about vision and focus. This keynote is an amazing masterclass in vision, focus, and strategy. I have to say, I am biased because I’m quite the Apple fanboy, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that there’s a lot of useful information there so I want to provide a few takeaways from that keynote.

Even though this talk is over two decades old, it boils down strategy to its most essential parts; the who, why, and what. At one point in the keynote, Mr. Jobs addresses the fact that Appel suffered from lousy engineering management.

In Jobs’ words: “People were going off in 18 different directions, doing arguably interesting things. Good engineers, lousy management. So, when you look at this farm with all the animals going in different directions, it doesn’t add up. The total is less than the sum of the parts.”

What Steve Jobs is saying here is that, as a company, you have to focus on the things that work and add value by identifying the fundamental direction you should go in. A company without focus is doomed. Focusing is not about saying yes, it’s about saying no to the things that you want to do but don’t make sense within your vision or strategy.

Steve Jobs also made a point about the importance of being different while remaining relevant to your audience. To drive this point across, he said: “I think it’s important that Apple is perceived as much better. If being different is essential to doing that, then we have to do that. But if we could be much better without being different, that’d be fine with me.

I want to be much better, I don’t care about being different.”

Jobs also swears by the top-down approach, where the strategy is clear in terms of what the vision is, and then you bring in the right people and build the right culture around that. If you do that, your company will be a success because it will be able to produce the right products. There’s a lot more we can discuss about Steve Jobs’ keynote, but for now, I want you to think about the following important points:

1. Focus and have a sharp vision

You might have interesting ideas boiling to skyrocket your business’s sales but with an ambiguous vision, you are headed nowhere. An important aspect of focus is to discard the ideas that don’t align with your business strategy. Businesses with a sharp vision are not apologetic about being different than others. Instead, they complete the market gap and attract audiences by pulling on their emotional strings — logical and illogical. 

2. Be different but relevant

A business with a truly unique vision has to be relevant if it wants to be competitive. You can’t develop an application without analyzing and understanding the market needs. 

That’s why it’s important to think of the following questions when developing a unique application: 

  • Does my audience need the product, service or application I am developing?
  • Will it fill the market gap?
  • Are there similar solutions in the market?

Steve Jobs says, ‘We are focusing our energy on the right products, the right marketing strategy, the right communication strategy, and the right distribution strategy.’ That’s a good example to follow!


Pro tip: Think like the CEO of the company

If you want to go from order taker to trusted creative advisor, always think like the CEO of the company that you’re working with. They are thinking about everything and not just visual design. Here are a few to start:

  • The product
  • The customer
  • The market 
  • The stakeholders
  • The media 
  • The competition
  • The company value
  • The company model
  • Perception and innovation
  • Operations and logistics

Thinking like the CEO of the client that you’re working with will allow you to have a completely different perspective and approach to delivering value. You also want to be curious and ask the right questions to learn about the business and industry. That is the secret to becoming the most amazing advisor.

Additionally, having a customer-centered approach will allow you to think from a different perspective. In fact, this can help you develop a four-dimensional perspective to build the greatest solution for your client. 


3. Handle criticism with wisdom 

Steve Jobs once said, ‘I don’t feel my job is to win a popularity contest right now’ when he was asked about handling criticism during an interview. Handling critical feedback with wisdom takes you one step closer to running a successful company. 

4. Attract the right audience

Focusing on what your company has to offer means you need to focus on attracting the right audience. The way you represent your business in the market should be a reflection of the audience that will buy your products and services. 

For instance, Steve Jobs once said, “Apple is still the dominant leader in education.” By saying that, he clearly stated that his company focuses on educators, creative thinkers, students, and the future generation. He knew exactly who he was catering his products to, and so should you!

5. Find meaningful partnerships 

Developing meaningful partnerships with dominant leaders in the industry will only open your business to more growth opportunities. Not every business in the industry is a competition, so you need to be smart about the stakeholders you choose to collaborate with inside the market. 

Summary 

As you can see, the big game mentality is all about the gameplay you put forward to grow your business. Entrepreneurs are often tempted to act against their business strategy. However, only those who stay laser-focused on their goals win the game. 

Instead of creating a complex plan, stick to the simple strategy of, ‘why’, ‘who’, what’, ‘when’ and ‘where’. That way, you will find the success you’re looking for. 

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The Power of Contrast and Self-Value

Today, I would like to jump right into the topic of self-value. A while back, I was going through Twitter, as you do, and I came across a tweet from Blair Enns that said, and I’m paraphrasing:

“If you’re not willing to pay for value, then you can’t learn how to value-price effectively.”

Blair Enns

That got me thinking about the power of contrast and self-value, so I want to explore that topic with you today.

Why Is It So Important to Value Yourself?

The first thing I’d like to say about self-value is that how you value yourself is the same way you value others. If you don’t value your time, you won’t value anyone else’s time either. For creatives, independent freelancers, and artists of all kinds it is very difficult to see your own value and even fostering that value in the first place can be extremely challenging.

However, it’s so important that you learn to value yourself and your time sooner rather than later. The lack of self-value creates the kind of inner conflict that keeps you from realizing your full potential. Once you sort out that conflict, you won’t hesitate to ask for more money when you’re working on freelance projects. We see this all over the freelance market; people don’t feel confident enough to ask for the remuneration that they are worth.

Why? Because they don’t value themselves, their time, or their skills enough to confidently price their services or product as they should. It is very important to spend time self-reflecting, looking inward, and honing in on how you value yourself and how others value you. It is also important to understand your relationship with yourself and with time because it’s such a finite resource.

Get Invested in Something Greater Than Your Ego

There’s another tweet that got me thinking and this one is from Diego Zambrano, one of my subscribers. In the tweet, he talked about how “real friends are the ones who stick around when you’re happy; the ones who disappear were feeding on your misery.” He also provided great advice for people who want to be happy in saying that they should “attach their ego to a higher purpose than themselves.” There’s a lot of truth to that.

When you’re working on something new that goes against what’s expected, whether that’s building a new business, starting a YouTube channel, or whatever project you have in mind, you’ll notice that a lot of people around you won’t support you like you thought they would and you will actually find that support in strangers.

That often happens because you are going on a new path and the people around you are stuck in their ways, so it’s difficult for them to come to terms with you taking steps forward while they are glued to the same spot. Of course, this is not all black and white. There’s a lot of nuances involved! The type of value you offer has to also be relevant to the people’s attention you crave! See value pyramid.

Have a Healthy Competition With Yourself

Another tweet that truly got me thinking comes from Sahil, and he said: “Competing with yourself is the ultimate positive-sum game.” This got me thinking about how we often fall into the comparison trap. We look at the best version of other people, which is what they show to the world, and we compare it to our version of ourselves, which is still under construction.

You may be having a rough time and then you go on social media and see all these people living the perfect life. That automatically makes you feel defeated and bad about yourself. However, you have no idea what those people are struggling with because that’s not what they show you. That’s something you have to keep in perspective.

The Importance of Contrast

Contrast is everything in life; black and white, sweet and salty, day and night, cold and warm. As human beings, our senses operate from contrast and everything we enjoy has contrast.

For example, there’s a big difference between eating something that has the perfect balance of sweet and savoury and eating something overly sweet and has no nuance to it. Which one do you enjoy more? It’s often the former because it has contrast.

That is true for everything in life. Contrast is always present and it’s what makes things interesting. You can use the power of contrast in your thinking and day-to-day life to make everything so much better. Learn to hack it and you will see a big difference in your career and your life.

View this NFT art on Opensea here.

Follow and bookmark this blog post as a Twitter thread here.

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How to Lead With Curiosity

All the major breakthroughs and inventions in the history of the world derive from one thing: curiosity. As defined by Mirriam-Webster, curiosity is the desire to know and I would add that it is inherently intrinsic to who we are as a species.

Curiosity is linked to all aspects of human development and it’s what allows us to acquire knowledge and skills so we can support our lives and have an impact on the world around us.

It inspires us to ask questions we want to understand something, create something original, or solve a difficult problem. This is why curiosity has led to so many wonderful breakthroughs because it’s not too far apart from creativity. In fact, it fuels it.

As humans, we have an instinctive desire to seek and explore. It’s a natural, insatiable drive that we should prioritize as much as any other drive because it can lead us to greatness in all aspects of life.

The question I want to work with today is this: if curiosity leads to breakthrough innovations, unbound creativity, and transformative ideas, why aren’t we all tapping into this powerful asset?

The Fear of Saying “I Don’t Know”

Saying “I don’t know” is something most people tend to avoid like the plague. But why is that? What is wrong with admitting that you don’t know everything? Absolutely nothing. Not knowing is a positive. In fact, it opens us up to possibilities.

“I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of uncertainty about different things, but I am not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don’t know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we’re here. I don’t have to know an answer.”

Richard Feynman

What happens when we ignore something? We take steps to seek the information we need and we end up learning a lot more than we originally intended to.

As Chamath Palihapitiya said, “It’s really powerful to be able to say ‘I don’t know’. American culture is this weird thing of know-it-alls. When is learning going to be valuable?”

What We Are Taught About Failure

If you remember what it was like to be a child or if you’ve had the chance to observe a child, then you already know how much curiosity we have in those early years.

Sir Ken Robinson has a great story about this, “A little 6-year-old girl was in a drawing lesson and she was in the back drawing. The teacher was fascinated by it because the little girl could never pay attention so she went over to ask what the girl was drawing. The girl answered, ‘I’m drawing a picture of God’. And the teacher said, ‘But nobody knows what God looks like’, to which the girl said ‘Well, they will in a minute.’

When children don’t know something, they simply take a stab at it because they are not afraid of being wrong. That’s why they are so creative! If you are not prepared for failure, how can you expect to come up with anything original?

By the time we grow up and become adults, we become scared of being wrong, and that’s why there are so many leaders out there who stigmatize mistakes and failure.

This is how people are educated out of their creative potential because we are taught to stick to the left side of our brains, but in doing that, we stop questioning things.

The Work Culture Issue

Work culture often consists of an incentive structure that is set up to stifle and silence curiosity and creativity. However, as Elon Musk has said, “The massive thing that can be done is to make sure that your incentive structure is such that innovation is rewarded and not punished.”

When curiosity is incentivized, innovations occur left and right, so people rise through the ranks and meet their goals a lot faster. As a result, the organization thrives more than ever before.

So, you can see how our curiosity is silenced by external forces since we are children, but that changes today. From this moment on, you are going to turn things around.

Take the stigma and fear out of not knowing and turn it into a positive because that allows you to honor your curiosity by wondering, investigating, exploring, and learning.

What Does This Mean for Your Organization?

When you learn to say “I don’t know” you go from being the carrier of knowledge to being the person who asks interesting questions, and that is a lot more valuable than we’re taught to believe.

One of my favorite things to say in meetings or conversations is “I don’t know, what do you think?” This propels the conversation, leads to collaboration, and it allows you to empower people.

When you stop offering solutions, in the words of Michael Bungay Stanier, “You begin to empower people not by giving them the answer, but by helping them find their own answer. Not by holding onto control, but by giving up some of it and inviting others to sept in and step up.”

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Forget the T-shaped skillset: Try being a comb instead!

Landing your first job might be tricky if you don’t have a specific skill set, but you know what? Getting hired with a plethora of skills is even more challenging contrary to what you might think. More means more chances of getting noticed by the hiring manager, right? No.  

Don’t sweat it; I’ve been there, done that. I’ve field-tested and learnt what works the hard way, so you don’t have to. And that’s what we will explore in this article. How to pass the recruitment process like a silk scarf through an engagement ring when you are a comb? It’s the Indian rope trick equivalent, except you get hired at the end, and no one disappears.

Here is what you will take away from this article:

  • What are the different types of skill sets, and which one is right for you?
  • How to show up in front of potential recruiters / hiring managers? 
  • What to put on your resume?
  • How to get work? The dos and don’ts of being a comb.

Before we dive into the differences, let’s clearly define each of these concepts. There are three commonly known skill sets T-shape, Pi shape and Comb shape. But, for this article, I’m going to make a case for the comb because I want you to aim higher than lower.

The short version goes like this. 

One area of expertise: You’re a T

Two areas of expertise: You’re a Pi

Multiple areas of expertise: You’re a champion (or a comb)

I would argue that a polymath is the embodiment of a comb. Did I lose you there? It’ll make sense in a minute. Hang tight. First, here’s a good definition of T-shape by Jason Yip:

Image source.

“A T-shaped person is capable in many things and expert in, at least, one.

As opposed to an expert in one thing (I-shaped) or a “jack of all trades, master of none” generalist, a “t-shaped person” is an expert in at least one thing but also somewhat capable in many other things. An alternate phrase for “t-shaped” is “generalizing specialist”.”

Jason Yip

Being a comb comes from combining several T’s, meaning you have expertise in multiple verticals and a multi-disciplinary approach. Full-stack, baby!

Cariel Cohen captures it quite well in his article here.

When you have a T-skillset, you become confined in a uni-dimensional box- a niche. You might know the whole ball of wax about it, but you are entirely clueless about other skills related to your career. And that’s where being a comb helps you bridge the gap. And that’s what we are doing here. 

Some areas where T-shaped works better than anything else include specialized doctors, lawyers, athletes and professors.

A T-shape skilled person is ideal for filling a role in a large company because all the skills are distributed, and you act as a cog in a piece of large machinery. 

On the other hand, Combs prefer to take on more responsibility and are usually leading companies or teams because they have a knack for understanding and solving complex situations and problems. 

Disclaimer: Agreed, this can sound a bit overwhelming to a few and being a comb can be challenging! It’s also not for everyone. There is no one right way. However, if there’s a spark, then I encourage you to read on.

You’ve probably heard the most famous and familiar quote used in arguments for specialist vs generalist: Jack of all trades master of none. Yep, that one! It’s factually incorrect. The complete sentiment goes as: 

A jack of all trades is a master of none but often better than a master of one.

To be a comb, you need to be hyper-curious, live in the nuance and the chaos. It would help if you got away from the mindset that you are only required to excel in one field and not know a dime about others. 

Elon Musk is a comb. He has disrupted banking, rockets, the auto industry, ai, and so on. 

The biggest challenge of getting hired is when you’re a comb, provided that is your predicament.

It is about time we address the disclaimer given earlier. While it gives you a competitive edge, the considerable skill knowledge can act against you too! 

Wonder how? Well, it’s from the hiring manager’s perspective. The wide range of skills leaves the potential employer baffled as to where to fit you. The only way out, according to them, is simply negating your application. 

And here is how you will play a different hand! Look, talk, behave like a T-shaped skill person when preparing your resumes and giving interviews. Acting like a T early in the conversation is to eliminate the decision-making fatigue for the recruiter. You’re thinking from the hiring manager’s perspective and making it easy for them to hire you. You’re giving them evidence to solve a problem they have. 

However, that doesn’t mean you will have to act like a T all the time. Once you have landed a job, start being a comb by taking an interest, being curious, and demonstrating your expertise in every facet of the role, team, and company you sit within.

How will the employer or the organization take it? If you’ve played your cards right, slowly but steadily, you’ll sit at the heart of several functions and projects, making you indispensable and the ideal candidate for a promotion.

There you have it! You’ve either come out wanting nothing to do with combs, or the torn voice inside your brain which desired more has finally discovered its path and place in the world.

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The Art of Remote Storytelling

Virtually presenting your creative ideas and telling engaging stories can be limiting and challenging. Most people observe passively and multitask in the background adding to your frustration. Is there a way to get noticed and replicate the in-person experience remotely, influencing and winning the audience? Don’t sweat, I’ve done the leg work and have got you covered. 

Calling out the audience in the room.

The medium of communication may be different, but one element remains unchanged: people. And, since the dawn of time, people have loved telling and listening to stories. Ironically, filmmakers have mastered the art of telling people stories on a screen! Imagine if Hollywood directors and editors, the likes of Wes Anderson and Stanley Kubrik, were guiding and helping you execute a virtual presentation. 

Park yourself in a comfortable chair, kick your feet up, make some popcorn. Let’s dive into the 3 acts of preparing, delivering and closing virtual presentations like a boss (cue drum roll).

Prepare.

Tell a story without slides.

If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this article, it’s to stop prioritizing your PowerPoint slides and focus your efforts on content and storytelling. Don’t get me wrong, professionally designed slides are a great tool, but no one cares if you spent 3 hours selecting the perfect sans serif font and shade of incarnadine on the cover. How many big-budget production-heavy movies can you think of that tanked at the box office? My point precisely. Your audience will remember the story you told and how you made them feel. 

Begin by thinking like a movie director and an editor. You’re taking the audience on a journey from point A to B, so be surgical and omit the riff-raff. Zero in on what emotions you’d like people to experience during and after the meeting. Ever come out of a full-day session feeling charged up and ready to tackle the world or come out of a 30-minute rant and felt drained?

Apply the simple three-act story arc to your presentation with a beginning, middle and end. Open by drawing your audience into your big ideas. Think of this as your hook point. Next, why should they care, and what will be the reward at the end? Heck, spice it up and throw in a plot twist. Five-finger discounts, anyone? 

Get into your audience’s head.

We love talking about ourselves, our process, our charts, our projections, our slides and spraying the room with our industry lingo. I’ve been there, guilty as charged.

In your next meeting, flip the switch, think about your audience’s experience – their needs, fears, challenges and what drives and excites them. Use their words and lingo. Win them over emotionally, and they’ll rationalize analytically. 

For example, even before the meeting day, level-set your audience expectations by adding the high-level schedule in the calendar invite, just like a snappy movie trailer. 

Your first assistant director or moderator

If possible, get someone on your team to help moderate and scribe. From giving others screen sharing permissions, muting guests (we’ve all been there) to scribing and noting action items, a moderator can help keep the conversation on track. This way, you can remain focused on storytelling.

Deliver.

Warm up the crowd. Get ’em stretching, literally.

Empathy reels them in. Depending on the time of day, duration of your scheduled meeting and context, use the first few minutes to make small talk (ice breakers) get people out of their chairs to stretch, drink water, eat something or use the bathroom. You don’t know how their day has been leading up to your presentation—ever heard of Zoom fatigue? By having empathy for your audience, changing their physiological state, you’ll make them far more receptive to your ideas. 

Use these initial minutes to share your meeting structure and set some simple ground rules. A few examples include: 

  1. People should say their names before they speak. 
  2. Have attendees drop their questions in the chat window to be addressed at the allocated time of the session (your first assistant director can help prioritize them). 
  3. Set roundtable checkpoints with key decision-makers to ensure they get a chance to speak. 

By doing the above, you keep everyone engaged and add transparency to the conversation.

Help people imagine. Think like a sound designer.

You ranted for an hour, and towards the end, during QA, one could hear the crickets in the hollowing silence. Can everyone hear you, and are they listening? Someone famous once said, “people see with their ears.” To keep your audience engaged, speak in a clear and balanced voice. Limit talking to short bursts of one to two minutes. Pace yourself and take deliberate pauses to emphasize specific points. Ever heard Obama recite a speech? Sprinkle in anecdotes and experiences. Nostalgia can be even more powerful than memory.

Remove any audio distractions (do the best you can with your situation): mute cell phones and other electronics, schedule your child’s trombone practice in the next room before or after your meeting. Sound about right?

Technology is wallpaper. Ten tips, tricks and hacks!

Your tech and production should work comfortably in the background. Here are some simple tips in no specific order. 

1. Stick to the technology you know well or, better yet, learn what your audience uses.

2. Despite preparation, there could be unforeseen hiccups. So be prepared to go without your slides. 

3. If you’re using Zoom, when setting up your meeting, select the “Mute upon entry” option. This ensures you avoid disrupting the flow of your presentation.

4. Turn on your camera and frame yourself. Sit bang centre of the screen and have the camera be at eye level (throw some books under that laptop). Have the light source be in front of you, so your face is lit up properly. Occasionally look into the camera. 

5. Get that sweet podcast voice. Connect an external mic to improve the fundamentals in your voice and reduce the echoey sounds. 

6. Clean up your background. Get rid of laundry or any distracting elements. Zoom backgrounds are great, but keep it simple and avoid overdoing them. 

7. Connect and use a secondary monitor so you can have easy access to your notes, chat window and any additional presentation materials ready to go.

8. Practice and test before. You can also start the meeting early with your moderator to iron out any issues. 

9. Be mindful and keep meetings short. Schedule multiple if necessary. 

10. Consider the different time zones when scheduling and send passwords in advance.

Close.

Give people time back in the day. 

Take deep dives offline, being mindful of others. With the help of your first assistant director (moderator/scribe), share notes, action items, next steps, roles and responsibilities etc., immediately after the meeting while it’s still fresh in everyone’s mind. Then, schedule a follow-up (include movie trailer).

Remember, your story will make or break the presentation. Be ready to scrap your slides. Have empathy for your audience, keep it short and sweet – staying razor-sharp focused on their experience. And finally, no one can read 12 point font on your slides, bruh! 

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Missed Connections — Short Film Series

Hello and welcome! Everyone is trying to cope with the current strange situation in their own way. I’m making a series of short films. Why am I making films? Have I made some already? Where am I posting them? Who watches them? Should you be watching them? Feeling anxious and excited? Don’t sweat or panic; I’ll explain everything.

The short version. Start watching.

The long version. You and I are going to be looking back at this blip and have worthy historical stories (hopefully nothing traumatic). I’m doing and making something positive we can look back at and be like, “remember how we made a cool short film during that time…”

Let’s dive right into it now. Are you familiar with Craigslist, Missed Connections? If not, check out this page. In a nutshell, these are stories people post anonymously. They missed an opportunity — stories of individuals who had a chance to make a connection with another human but lost it — ever swiped left to life? It’s not platonic if that’s what you were wondering.

I find them to be relatable and nothing short of a mental tickle. Last year, I turned these stories into graphics on my Instagram page.

Now, I’m making these anonymous posts into a series of short films. By short, I mean no more than 60 seconds. Did you watch them on Youtube yet?

Oh, Paul! This is SO cool! You’re so cool. How can I get involved? My voice is no David Attenborough, but I did make that speech at the park, by the sand pit, in the general direction of people. One kid was paying close attention only for me to realise later there was a butterfly in my hair.

Cool. Cool. Cool. Cool.

Here’s what you need to know if you’re interested. You can read through some of these anonymous stories (they are from the Toronto area, but you can pick any city of your liking). If you want to tell your own story, heck, I’m open to that provided you can keep it under forty seconds.

If you choose to go the Craigslist route, we can shortlist 1–3 stories (or as many or little as you like). Friends who have recorded them say it took them roughly 2 minutes per account as they recorded each story a few times to get the rhythm right.

Rhythm? Turn off the mental alarm bells. All that means is you’re reading them as if you are the person writing it with natural pauses to sound like a human and not a digital assistant.

To record on your iPhone all you need is the default installed Voice memos app and a closet. Pretty sure Android phones have an equivalent.

Paul, I love what you’re doing and would prefer to enjoy it as an audience. That’s awesome! Subscribe to my Youtube channel, hit the bell notification and sit back in your easy chair and enjoy the series. No hard feelings, bruh!

And lastly, this is a not-for-profit side project. In other words, no money will be changing hands. I’m happy to share your social channel (of choice) in the video description.

Email me: paul@syng.cc if you’re interested ;–)

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SYNG

What’s in your pockets?

With only thirty minutes left to the day, exhausted, I’ve decided to write you a detailed description of the contents of my pockets.

In my left pant pocket, there are receipts from Starbucks; I drank Americano with honey and almond milk during the day. A Tall Blonde Latte made with almond milk in the evening. There was an egg and sausage wrap involved.

The shirt pocket has my lunch receipt from work. Fish, jerk chicken and daal, if you were curious. Can’t complain, right?

Back pants pockets are reserved for my phone and wallet — only while standing or on the move, never sitting down. On digging further I recovered lint, cat hair and a cineplex ticket.

The small pocket intended for watches has loose change comprising of 3 quarters, a loonie and a dime.

Bet you didn’t notice I went to the movie alone.

Categories
Write Every Day

Addicted to software updates

Is that even a thing? For the sake of conversation, let’s make some wild assumptions. Are you with me? Let’s go!

I get a dopamine rush at the sight of an “Update” button on the App Store. I love having every single piece of software operating in the latest version; be it a MacBook Pro, the iPhone or my Apple Watch.

Like your average nerd, I am enrolled in every single beta programme out there, taking first dibs at the latest and greatest stuff one could imagine in their wildest dreams.

Just thinking about what I’m going to be doing minutes after finishing this nugget is making me ticklish. I bet we are not on the same page right now.

This year, on Christmas, when Hyundai announced a software update for my car; bringing Apple Car Play to the 2016 Sonata, I was stoked. Santa must be impressed with my behaviour, I concluded.

But there have been instances when my addiction got the best of me. Like the time I was out on a Tinder date; I updated a girl’s phone while she was away to the bathroom. Only to be caught red-handed minutes later, as she stood behind my back, in shock, while I updated half-a-dozen apps on her phone. Don’t even get me started on her firmware. In my defence, she was away for a long time, and I got lonely.

Word of advice to girls on Tinder: Please add “Don’t update my phone while I’m trying to take a massive dump!” to your bio to avoid any further confusion or take a knee and get left swiped.

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Write Every Day

Smell good

I was born on tropical land, inherited Aryan genetics, consumed lassi and butter chicken for breakfast (go figure), bathed with a bucket of cold “tanki” water, spoke a smoothie of Hindi, Punjabi and English, slept by the water-cooler and drove an LML Vespa.

Yep, childhood was great! “Ballin,” is how any person in my immediate surrounding would describe the predicament. I live in Canada now, eh.

There was only one snafu. My armpits reeked of goat breath all through childhood. Don’t ask me what happened when I was left alone by a cage full of pretentious goats. The only grooming products available to me, all thanks to my mom, were Vaseline, talcum powder and coconut oil.

One morning, I concocted those ingredients into a super formula, putting any reputed apothecary to shame! Little had I known what would be in store for me that afternoon in math’s class. The layers peeled off like potato chips. The teacher wasn’t impressed at my attempt to sneak snacks, in class, under my armpits.

That was a turning point. Like a character defining moment in a John Grism novel. Embarrassed and impressed with myself, I decided to find a better way. On my ride back home, that evening, I decided to stop by the neighbourhood general store.

We didn’t have Harrods.

The counter was so high I could barely see over and above. Boy, was I short back then. With both hands on the edge of this counter as mentioned above, I pulled myself up on my toes and looked over to the store clerk.

“Yes, what would like beta (clerk refers to me lovingly as a son)?”

“Do you have something to treat smelly armpits?”

He appeared puzzled at first but then got up and went towards the back of the store where they keep all the shaving gear. He returned minutes later holding a white bottle, over his head, as if it were a trophy. He placed it on the counter inches from my nose. It was beautiful. I knew I was in love with a bottle of Old Spice.

I’ve never had to sneak chips under my armpits ever since.

Categories
Write Every Day

The desk

Working from a café, on your laptop, is a trifle at best and a trek if you’re carrying a laptop bag. A coffee shop, in my mind, is suitable for meetings, quick last-minute edits, chatting and “coffee” but the absolute worst for doing focused work.

“Oh, look! There’s Paul at the coffee shop working on his laptop. Boy does he look engrossed. He must be very productive getting all his shit done,” said no person, ever.

This segues into why one should fashion their own Batcave. Or the close cousin, a desk in mom’s basement. A creative space (doesn’t mean artsy-fartsy, bruh!) equipped with all the bells and whistles turns me on. Like, a lot. It’s frightening.

Allow me to explain. A corner of your house or studio or mom’s basement, away from all the distractions is a space littered with natural light, decked with a loveseat or bed, to take power naps. Heck, throw in a bookshelf and hang art on the wall.

And now the workstation.

Imagine a desk, preferably white and standing. Large enough for your imagination and small enough to fit in a downtown shoebox apartment.

Besides your laptop, secondary monitor (only for high rollers) and speakers, the desk should have sufficient room to spread two books, a notepad, a coffee mug, a pair of wireless headphones, reading glasses, and your phone.

The only thing left to do now is to finish this rant. Run along now. Shoo!

Categories
Write Every Day

Naked ankles


It’s been half a decade. And I can’t seem to stop. I’m finally coming out and saying it. Ready? Naked ankles are my weakness. Folding my pant cuffs, revealing the hairy flesh underneath, is a habit I picked up from GQ. Shameless plug alert. I wrote for GQ. So when I say GQ was my bible you know, I have a biased opinion.

On any typical evening, I’d lay back in my brown bean bag, beer in hand, with an issue of GQ — scrutinising the flood of ads, semi-nude photography, drool over things I couldn’t afford and study the informative articles and giggle baloney banana over the cheeky columns.

I can trace back to the first time I folded my pant cuffs. I felt liberated, free and sexy. Like the time you pooped, for the first time, without your pants and underwear hanging around your ankles.

Right!

Sure, GQ had influenced my style and taste, but one can’t forgive the sultry Indian summers for partly being responsible — giving “wind in my hair” an entirely new meaning, eh?

To my fellow Canadians, the habit appears a little odd in – 30-degree temperature. I wouldn’t recommend it to the faint hearted.

“You keeping your ankles warm?”

Something I regularly hear from near and dear ones — who worry about my health and are a bit confused about my sexuality. You know who you are. I love you too.

Hey! I don’t see anybody rallying behind Sally. Sally who? She’s a basic bitch, sporting a skirt ten inches above the knees. Are we neighbouring in sexism territory, yet?

Moving along now. The fact of the matter is, I don’t mind the attention. Yeah, a whore for all the eyes. So what? I catch girls (even men, sheesh!) staring down my pants all the time.

Now I know what it’s like to have a revealing pair.