By Anant Gupta
In a few weeks, we’ll be launching the beta version of our app. This is the first app we've built, and as a non-technical person I’m amazed that we even got this far.
When we started a few weeks ago, we had two founders, one goal, and zero clues. I spent a lot of time learning from everyone who would take my call about building apps like ours, and came away even more freaked out about how little we knew, how far we had to go, and how little time we had. Every conversation made our goal feel that much more out of reach.
There’s nothing special about the way I felt about this situation. Think of any ambition, any goal you’ve never followed through on. Training for a marathon, learning a language, quitting your job. Change is a scary road to travel: the path is murky, the end feels distant. It’s easy to nestle ourselves in the familiar comforts of Plan B - the status quo.
In this case, I had no Plan B. I, literally, couldn't afford to not follow through. So I had to figure it out. And the most important thing I did to figure it out was also, perhaps, the simplest.
I gave up on our goal.
Instead of pursuing the outcome, I focused on the process. Instead of one big, vague objective, I defined 34 specific, discrete, actionable steps. While a big goal felt paralyzingly difficult, every little step felt achievable, tangible. And it gave me the confidence to act. Behavioral science tells us a couple of reasons why this worked:
1. Start With One Tooth: As Stanford psychologist BJ Fogg explained - and your frustrated dentist will corroborate - it’s hard to commit to something like flossing every day. It feels like such a hassle. On other other hand, flossing just one tooth trivially easy. When you see how easy one tooth is, you’ll probably floss one more - just for fun. You might even go crazy and finish a few more. Before you know it, you’re flossing every tooth. Even those pesky back molars.
In other words, little steps are easier to commit to. People are much more likely to start and execute a task if it feels accessible, even easy. A task that’s big and abstract is hard to visualize, requires too much imagination to feel realistic. A small and specific task is a (relative) piece of cake. Just make sure to floss after.
2. Green Smoothie vs. Pancake Decisions*: If you start your day with a positive step forward - e.g. a green smoothie, you’ll make “green smoothie decisions" all day. You’ll take the stairs and order a salad. You’ll stand straighter, dress better, call your mother.
Start with pancakes, though, and you’re doomed to "pancake decisions." You’ll probably take that leftover blueberry muffin from the office kitchen, forget your mom’s birthday, and fall asleep wiping Cheetos powder onto your ketchup-stained sweatshirt.
This is because, as the late Dr. Richard Hackman put more eloquently in his research on workplace teams, we tend to enter "self-fueling spirals.” Progress, even small progress, proves to ourselves that change is possible. Incremental steps create opportunities for quick wins. In sum, momentum matters.
Transformation doesn’t happen in big leaps. It is the sum of small parts: discrete steps and cumulative wins. From this single lesson, I've had to reconsider what I thought I was capable of, and change how I approached a bunch of other projects I’ve shunted aside. My dentist is thrilled. Yours might be too.
*Credit to author Kevin Gianni for coining the term
By Anant Gupta
I’m fortunate to have surrounded myself with a lot of high performing people over the years. As I’ve learned to navigate school and career, these people have been my role models, my mentors, and my teachers. Through them, I've tried to understand what it takes to grow and succeed, at work and in life.
It’s a common trope that successful people are lifelong learners. That they never stop being students. That they continuously seek new experiences and push the boundaries of their comfort zones.
This is certainly true in my experience. But that’s not the whole story. Anyone can receive new information, but not everyone truly learns from that information. Think about any class you took in school, or any group trip, challenge or activity. Invariably, some people learned very little, and others extracted tremendous value. In order to be an effective lifelong learner, two things have to be true:
1. We know all of ourselves: Growth starts from a place of healthy self-awareness. Self-awareness requires honest assessment of strengths andweaknesses. Successful people are justifiably confident with their strengths, but they also acknowledge their weaknesses. Before you can improve, we have to identify where there is room to improve.
2. We believe in “yet”: In addition to knowing that we have room to improve, we have to believe we have the capacity to improve. Weaknesses aren’t immutable character flaws; they are strengths that just haven’t been developed…yet. This isn’t as simple as it might sound. As Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck describes in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, many of us are raised to believe that intelligence and talent are fixed, based on innate ability. These people avoid challenges and stress about looking smart, because failure is a slight on their value as people. The most successful people I know don’t subscribe to this idea – they believe they can improve through effort. People who believe they can grow are willing to be wrong, to look dumb. Embarrassment is simply the first step on the path to competence.
We know it’s important to be a lifelong learner. To do this, we must adopt a growth mindset, borne out of awareness and acceptance of our strengths and limitations. It’s a bit of a Catch 22, of course, but the best way to adopt a growth mindset is to practice. Be mindful of every time you say "I can't..." Pick one thing you're not good at and set aside time for deliberate practice. Track your improvement. It won't all work out right away. But through small, incremental challenges and experiences, we’ll get better.
By Indranil Sarkar
At 9am on a weekday, the New Delhi metro, which transports more than 2.5 million passengers daily, is bustling with white-collar professionals going to work. Most of them are glued to their sparkling new smartphones with ferocious intensity and focus – if an alien from Mars were to be observing this, they would be confused by the ‘magic’ in these palm sized devices that can captivate an audience so effectively for hours at a time. Little do they know that many of these respectably attired folks are busy ‘crushing candies’ or ‘flinging birds’.
Almost every white collar professional today in India has access to a smartphone – but how many of them use these powerful devices to acquire new knowledge and new professional capabilities everyday? The world of business is evolving daily rendering skills and capabilities obsolete within a few years. Is it that professionals are just not interested in becoming more competent and advancing in their career? Doesn’t sound likely - so what is the problem then?