ROK Movement – Random Acts of Kindness

  1. Leave someone flowers anonymously
  2. Be someone’s shoulder to cry on
  3. Surroundings looking messy? Tidy up the area around you
  4. Have lunch with a homeless person
  5. Buy more ethically sourced foods

Transfin. : A Newsletter I subscribed recently and I already like it !

Pop Quiz: How many of the eight companies that entered the Unicorn Club in 2018 were online food-ordering platforms?

Hint: Day of the year!

Answer: Two – Zomato and Swiggy!

Throw in fairly well capitalized UberEats into the mix and one can quickly see that there’s a three-horse big boy race at play in the Indian online food-ordering ecosystem, all of whom gained meaningful traction in 2018 and built up fairly deep coffers. Deep coffers meant aggressive discounting. Aggressive discounting meant robust user traction. Walk-in customers dwindled. User growth thrived while unit economics took back seat. Consumers benefited. Restaurateurs struggled to keep pace. Zomato, Swiggy and UberEats continued to build robust brands and consequently started commanding lofty margins.

As per this Business Standard article, restaurants on Zomato pay an average 15% cut to the platform. This compares to the  20% and 30% for Swiggy and Uber Eats respectively. How much margin upside do these platforms have? Will restaurateurs retort? Or are they seeing higher sales volume offsetting margin pressure? Maybe 2019 will give us some answers.

One thing appears to be fairly intuitive – with ‘pricing’ as a key differentiator, platforms will not cease to discount or compete, which perhaps will continue to bode well for consumers. We suspect there is lot more to happen in this space. We will be closely watching as the ecosystem evolves. Happy ordering in 2019!

Now to today’s Top Business Stories through our End Of Day Wrap Up:

India clocks highest direct tax-GDP ratio in FY18. GST collections slip in November. SMEs may get GST relief ahead of 2019 elections as govt might consider raising the sales threshold for compulsory GST registration.  

The What: As per a Business Standard report, India reported a direct tax-to-GDP ratio of 5.98% during FY18 (the best in the last 10 years) vs. 5.57% in FY17 and 5.47% FY16.

Up Close: GST collections stood at INR94,726cr in November vs. INR97,637cr in October. As per a BloombergQuint report, the government has so far collected c. INR9L crore as GST in eight months against the full-year budget target of INR13L crore.

Perspective: The news comes shortly after the GST Council cut rates on 23 goods and services, leaveing only “sin” or “luxury” goods, besides cement, large screen TVs, Air Conditioners and dishwashers within the 28% bracket.

Tax relief for SMEs: As per a Livemint report, the GST Council may consider raising the sales threshold for compulsory GST registration from INR20L to INR75L for SMEs to ease compliance burden.

RBI anounces restructuring scheme for MSMEs.

What a relief: RBI announces scheme to recast loans up to INR25cr of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) that are under stress but are not yet classified as bad loans

Bigger Picture: SMEs were the worst hit following demonetization and implementation of GST. Availability of credit to MSMEs was further affected by the IL&FS crisis, which reduced bank lending to NBFCs, in turn resulting in shortage of funds for MSMEs which were funded by these NBFCs.

Zomato in talks to raise up to $1bn to take on Swiggy.

Game on: As per an Economic Times report, Zomato is in talks with potential investors including Chinese private equity major Primavera Capital and existing backer Ant Financial to raise funds worth $500m- $1bn to take on competitor Swiggy.

Perspective: The development comes shortly after Swiggy raised $1bn led by existing investor Naspers which increased its value to $3.3bn.


Govt to amend IT Act to curb fake news and child pornography.

The What: The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) is scheduled to meet on January 5 to discuss potential amendments to the IT Act which seeks to regulate social media giants, curb the spread of fake news, child pornography and more.

Up Close: Proposed changes to include imposition of steeper penalties. Non-compliance with the guidelines may also result in the shutdown of a website.


Jet Airways defaults on debt payment to banks led by SBI, stock plunges over 5%, rating downgraded.

Jet woes: As per a Business Standard report, Jet Airways has delayed the payment to a consortium of Indian banks, led by State Bank of India on back of severe cash crunch.

Crash and downgrade: Stock crashes c. 7%. ICRA downgrades long-term rating of Jet Airways to D from C.


Sensex slumps over 360 points, NIFTY dives 117 points dragged by auto, metal stocks.

The What: BSE Sensex closed 363.05 points, or 1%, down at 35,891.52, and the Nifty 50 ended 117.60 points, or 1.08%, lower at 10,792.50 on back of global market volatility and uncertainty ahead of 2019 general elections.

Up Close: Both NIFTY Auto and NIFTY Metal fell over 3%. Sun Pharma, TCS, Asian Paints, Infosys, Yes Bank and ICICI Bank, Eicher Motors, Tata Steel, M&M and JSW Steel were among the top losers.

Are You a Know-It-All?
GE Appliances , earlier part of General Electric, is now a part of which global company ? 

(Answer at the end of newsletter.)

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Daily Pnut Newsletter : I like it

The World In A Nutshell
“The hedonic treadmill, also known as hedonic adaptation, is the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes. According to this theory, as a person makes more money, expectations and desires rise in tandem, which results in no permanent gain in happiness.” – Hedonic treadmill definition in Wikipedia

“It is a mistake,” he said, “to suppose that the public wants the environment protected or their lives saved and that they will be grateful to any idealist who will fight for such ends. What the public wants is their own individual comfort.” – Isaac Asimov, The Gods Themselves


Nothing Is Going To Rain On His Parade, Especially Not A Forest: Yesterday was the day progressive Brazilians had been dreading: the inauguration of new president and far-right firebrand Jair Bolsonaro. Vowing to roll back environmental protections and make it easier to destroy the world’s biggest rainforest, Bolsonaro cancelled plans to host key UN climate talks next year and appointed a foreign minister who believes climate change is a Marxist plot. On the domestic front, Bolsonaro rewarded powerful ultra-conservative evangelicals, who were largely responsible for his election, by installing an anti-abortion evangelical preacher as head of a new ministry overseeing Brazilian women, families, human rights and indigenous communities.

Bolsonaro campaigned as a law and order candidate, but his support of police use of brutal force and bullets against alleged drug traffickers accounts for much of the violence. Brazil is already one of Latin America’s most violent societies, with a record 63,880 homicides in 2017, and the new president appears to have no real plan to reduce crime other than fighting violence with violence. The far-right populist is a proud homophobe and maligner of women who models himself after US president Donald Trump, and he undoubtedly will govern for the next four years in like manner. Bolsonaro’s English-speaking son, Eduardo, has positioned himself as South America’s answer to Jared Kushner; he is poised to play an outsized role in pivoting toward the White House.

Additional reads: “Jair Bolsonaro: Brazil’s new far-right president urges unity.” (BBC) and “Brazil Wanted Change. Even Before Taking Office, Jair Bolsonaro Delivered.” (NYT)

Battle Of Who Could Care Less: Much has been written that is critical of the Saudi-led coalition backed by the US in Yemen’s war. It has been vilified for killing thousands of civilians with airstrikes, torturing foes in secret prisons, and driving millions to the point of starvation. Much less has been written about similar atrocities committed by the Iran-aligned rebels known as Houthis. The Washington Post interviewed 13 former prisoners and victims of the Houthis, only four of whom agreed to speak on the record. Their accounts reveal a continual and increasing pattern of assault, detention and torture, inhumane crimes against civil society that are fueling an expanding atmosphere of fear and intimidation across rebel-controlled areas. (WaPo)

Zero Love Lost, One Country, Two Systems: The Democratic Progressive Party of Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen suffered major losses in local elections last November. Candidates favoring closer ties with China won mayoral contests in Taiwan’s four largest cities. Regardless, Tsai said in an address on New Year’s Day that China must respect the freedom and democracy of Taiwan’s 23 million people. She urged China’s leader Xi Jinping to seek a peaceful solution to differences with Taiwan, stressing that in spite of the election results, the island’s people want to maintain self-rule. Beijing considers Taiwan to be Chinese territory that must be united with the mainland, by force if necessary. (NYT)

That’s One Small Step For Man, One Giant Icy Flyby: NASA scientists are celebrating their New Horizon’s spacecraft’s successful completion early New Year’s Day of the most distant space flyby in history. The spacecraft took thousands of photographs of the dark, icy space rock called Ultima Thule as it flew past it on the outer edge of the solar system. The mission operations manager for New Horizons said: “We are ready for Ultima Thule’s science transmission, science to help us understand the origins of our solar system.” The control centre is located at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland. (Guardian)

Additional read: “China’s Lunar Lander To Explore Moon’s Far Side.” (NPR)

F(Promise of Economic Growth, Repression) = Centralized PowerSunday’s election in Bangladesh handed a hugely lopsided victory, 96% of ballots cast, to 71-year-old incumbent prime minister Sheikh Hasina. Her ruling coalition grabbed 288 out of 300 seats in Parliament. The results pave the way for Hasina to continue her formula for maintaining power: strong economic growth coupled with repression of political opponents and critics of her government. Opposition leaders accused the PM of vote-rigging and demanded a fresh election. One political commentator said Bangladesh had now become a “one-party democracy” with, in effect, no mechanism for accountability. (WaPo)

– “DRC electoral fraud fears rise as internet shutdown continues: Both opposition and ruling coalition claim victory after chaotic presidential poll” (Guardian)

– “Philippine President Says He Sexually Abused Housemaid as a Teenager” (NYT)

– “Kim Jong Un Wants New Summit With Trump, But Also Issues A Veiled Warning” (NPR)

– “Israel’s opposition alliance disbands months before election: Centre-left coalition leader Avi Gabbay says he will no longer partner with Tzipi Livni” (Guardian)

American Politics and The Avengers: 2016 was the movie Age of Trump(as opposed to Age of Ultron ), 2019 is Infinity War , and 2020 might be Endgame . Washington D.C. Elections have consequences, and big Democratic wins in the 2018 midterms mean no more one-party rule in Washington. When the House Democratic majority takes office January 3rd, incoming committee chairs will have the power and resources to pursue investigations, issue subpoenas and compel testimony. It’s all part of a new, rigorous oversight of President Trump and his administration. In response, Trump has threatened to adopt a “warlike” posture. (Guardian)

The Man, The Myth, the MattisDefense Secretary James Mattis has left the position he’d occupied in the Trump administration for two years. His successor on an acting basis will be Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan. Shanahan is a longtime management executive of defense contractor Boeing and has no government or foreign policy experience. On December 19 Trump tweeted his intention to quickly withdraw US forces from Syria and Afghanistan. Mattis issued his resignation letter the next day. On Monday Trump tweeted the withdrawal might not be that quick. Mattis’ departure ushers in a period of intense uncertainty for the military. (WaPo)

Additional read: “Trump attacks McChrystal after retired general called Trump immoral.” (CNN)

– “Arizona shelter under fire as videos said to show rough handling of migrant kids: Prosecutors will decide whether to file charges over incidents that took place at shelter housing unaccompanied minors” (Guardian)

– “House Democrats ready strategy to reopen government, deny Trump wall money” (WaPo)

Turnaround Bright Eyes (and 2018) …Nothing I can say, A Total Eclipse of the World: “The Story of 2018 Was Climate Change: Future generations may ask why we were distracted by lesser matters.” (NYT) “The Year in Charts: Economic and other indicators are making it increasingly clear that Trump’s economic dreams are unlikely to come true.” (NYT) And a total eclipse of the truth: “A year of unprecedented deception: Trump averaged 15 false claims a day in 2018” (WaPo) “83 Things That Blew Our Minds in 2018:The most extreme, most sobering, and zaniest facts that The Atlantic’s science, technology, and health reporters learned this year” (Atlantic)

Destiny is calling me, Open up my eager eyes, ‘Cause I’m Mr. Artificial Intelligence Brightside: “GM’s decline truly began with its quest to turn people into machines” (Quartz). The robots are singing “Coming out of my [Google] cage, And I’ve been doing just fine”: “Wielding Rocks and Knives, Arizonans Attack Self-Driving Cars: The assailant slipped out of a park around noon one day in October, zeroing in on his target, which was idling at a nearby intersection — a self-driving van operated by Waymo, the driverless-car company spun out of Google.” (NYT) And humans are now signing and venting: “And I just can’t look, it’s killing me, And taking control.”

– “This clever AI hid data from its creators to cheat at its appointed task:Depending on how paranoid you are, this research from Stanford and Google will be either terrifying or fascinating.” (Tech Crunch) AI bots are singing “Choking on your alibis, But it’s just the price I pay, Destiny is calling me.”

– “The Verge 2018 tech report card: AI: As for much of the tech industry, 2018 has been a year of reckoning for artificial intelligence. As AI systems have been integrated into more products and services, the technology’s shortcomings have become clearer. Researchers, companies, and the general public have all begun to grapple more with the limitations of AI and its adverse effects, asking important questions like: how is this technology being used, and for whose benefit?” (The Verge)

– “Fake-porn videos are being weaponized to harass and humiliate women:‘Everybody is a potential target’: ‘Deepfake’ creators are making disturbingly realistic, computer-generated videos with photos taken from the Web, and ordinary women are suffering the damage” (WaPo) In a few years humanity might be yelling the chorus “And my stomach is sick, And it’s all in my head.”

– “The Most Amazing Artificial Intelligence Milestones So Far” (Forbes) And finally “It started out with [an AI] kiss, How did it end up like this?”

The New Year by Death Cab for Cutie, “So this is the new year; And I don’t feel any different; The clanking of crystal; Explosions off in the distance.” We spent the holidays with family in Seattle and listening to music from the Pacific Northwest: Sleater-Kinney, Elliott Smith, Presidents of the USA, Temple of the Dog, along with Postal Service and Death Cab. Happy New Year!

Royal Dung Day ! ( Holy S@#t)

Did you know…

… that today is Royal Dung Day? In 2000, the speaker of the Swaziland House of Assembly, Mgabhi Dlamini, was caught collecting dung from the royal kraal, or cattle pen, of King Mswati. Traditional leaders of Swaziland believe that royal dung has special powers. Brings a whole new meaning to “mudslinging” in politics, doesn’t it? 😉


Today’s Inspirational Quote:

“We are all a little weird and life’s a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love.”

— Dr. Seuss

Via Daily Pnut newsletter

“The hedonic treadmill, also known as hedonic adaptation, is the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes. According to this theory, as a person makes more money, expectations and desires rise in tandem, which results in no permanent gain in happiness.” – Hedonic treadmill definition in Wikipedia

“It is a mistake,” he said, “to suppose that the public wants the environment protected or their lives saved and that they will be grateful to any idealist who will fight for such ends. What the public wants is their own individual comfort.” – Isaac Asimov, The Gods Themselves

Want To Be a Public Speaker? Beware of the “Exposure” Bait

via Want To Be a Public Speaker? Beware of the “Exposure” Bait


Want To Be a Public Speaker? Beware of the “Exposure” Bait

Photo by Andrey Trusov on Unsplash

If your career goal is to become a public speaker, or to offer a service where public speaking will be one of your revenue streams, you should first read this.

Oftentimes independent service providers and industry experts get asked to speak on their particular areas of knowledge to a local group or at a special event. I’ve been called to do so several times.

Here’s how the scenario typically plays out.

The Scenario


“Hi, I’m Ms. Organizer of the XYZ professional group. We found your web site and we’d love to have you come talk about your area of expertise to our members. Now, we’re not a revenue-generating organization, so we can’t pay you to come speak. But, it will give you GREAT exposure to those in attendance who could be potential clients for you!”

Your Reaction

Which of the following would be your initial reaction if you got this call?

  • “Wow! They want ME to come and speak? I’m so honored!”
  • “Well, I could use the exposure since I’m still trying to build my client base. It could be worth my time even though I’m not getting paid I guess.”
  • “OMG! I’m terrified of speaking in front of groups! I think I’m already having a panic attack!”
  • “Last time I spoke to a group they told me it would be great exposure, but it wasn’t. There was no one there interested in any of my services which was disappointing.”
  • “There’s no way I’m speaking for free! My time and knowledge is worth more than that!”

Most people’s reaction is typically one of the above emotional reactions, depending on how long they’ve been in business.

But when you take the emotions out of the situation, what should your rational response be?

Should you take the unpaid speaking gig, or not?

Before we answer that question, let’s consider a few things.

Do you really need the exposure?

It might be early in your business and you need to get your name out there. Therefore, you may have to do a few free speaking gigs, but eventually will have to transition to opportunities that are more of a win-win.

Some people will dangle the bait of “exposure” and try to convince you that “exposure” makes the request a win-win.

However, I’ve found in my past experience that the amount of time spent preparing a presentation was never a fair trade for “exposure.”

Is the cause near and dear to your heart?

If you’re being asked to speak to a non-profit or a cause that’s near and dear to your heart, and your expertise will greatly benefit those being served by that non-profit, by all means provide your speaking services for free!

I have developed a great relationship with a local faith-based organization that helps those who are stuck in poverty get out of their vicious cycle of hardship.

Every quarter I go in and teach job interview skills and conduct mock interviews with those enrolled in their work-life program.

I know this audience cannot afford my services and I don’t expect them to turn into clients. I provide my presentations to them and the organization as a way to give back to those in need.

While I once used to speak to groups for exposure, I now limit my free speaking services to organizations like the one described above.

Is there another way to get the exposure you need?

Free speaking gigs aren’t the only way for you to get exposure for your business endeavor. There are other alternatives.

For instance, I love to write and it doesn’t require as much of my time as preparing a presentation. I definitely get a much bigger return on my investment of time with writing than I do with any free speaking gig.

I provide a ton of free content on my blog, on my Medium and Quoraaccounts, and in several published articles.

Since I have clients located in various states, it makes much more sense for me to provide free content online to an unlimited audience than it does to a small audience only in my local area.

In fact, one of my Quora articles providing free resume advice has over 150,000 views and several hundred upvotes. I could never get that kind of exposure with a speaking gig at a local organization!

To Speak or Not to Speak, That is the Question

So back to the question of should you say yes to a request to speak for free?

What kind of win-win situation is potentially available if you agree? Is it one that benefits the organization’s audience while also benefiting you?

For example, could this be great practice for a future public speaking career? Or if you later decide to add presentations to your income stream?

How you choose to handle this situation can set the tone for all future speaking gigs.

Also, it can either make or break your piggy bank if you get these kinds of requests on a regular basis.

You definitely don’t want to develop a personal brand as someone who will do everything for free!

To help you decide on your response, below are a few suggestions I shared from my own personal experience with the Freelancers Union Nashville chapter.

(Freelancers Union is a national organization that protects the rights of freelancers and independent service providers. They helped get the “Freelance Isn’t Free” law passed in New York. This law protects independent service providers from nonpayment. They have ongoing efforts in getting the same law passed in all other states.)

How to Decide

First, wait until the emotions (excitement, uncertainty, fear, etc.) subside before agreeing to anything. Ask for a couple of days to check your calendar and get back to them with an answer.

Then, in those couple of days, spend some time developing your priorities and a strategic plan for agreeing to non-paid opportunities (because if you get one request, you’ll like get more requests!).

Your plan should be made up of two lists: a “SAY YES IF” list and a “SAY NO IF” list.

Say YES if…

The “SAY YES IF” list can include any criteria that make it a win-win situation. Suggestions of criteria to include in this list are:

  • If your target market/ideal client is represented in the audience. But don’t take the caller’s word for it. You know your market better than they do. Do your research and ask enough questions to determine if your market will actually be represented.
  • If they allow you to promote your own business/services or sell your products at the end of your talk.
  • If you get to choose a topic that doesn’t require a lot of time for additional research and preparation on your part. It should be a topic you know well enough to speak on without any notes. If it’s simply a Q&A or a panel with other experts, that’s even better because those scenarios require little to no research or preparation.
  • If the prep and delivery time doesn’t cut too deeply into your billable hours. Always keep your paying clients and paid projects your top priority.
  • If they offer to give you an honorarium for your time and expertise. It’s okay to ask them if they ever do that for speakers who agree to come speak for significantly less than what you’d normally charge and/or what other speakers would typically charge.
  • If the organization is related to a cause that’s near and dear to your heart.

Say NO if…

The “SAY NO IF” list can include the following suggested criteria:

  • If at least 3 of the criteria from your “SAY YES IF” list aren’t met.
  • If the organization has very specific or unrealistic demands, keeps changing details on you, or does anything else to make things difficult. An example of an unrealistic demand would be them asking you to teach their audience your trade secrets or how to do your job! (I actually received such a request recently.)
  • If you’re not allowed to invite participants to visit your web site or subscribe to your newsletter.

Feel free to add your own criteria to each list. Remember, it must be a win-win situation or you’ll become resentful!

Beware though, when enforcing your criteria people may accuse you of having a sense of entitlement. But it’s not entitlement if you’ve worked hard in your industry to gain the knowledge you have.

Besides, who’s really the one with the sense of entitlement? Could it be those expecting you to give them something for nothing???

Be Strategic

You don’t want to say yes to every opportunity. Doing so will cause you to not only lose money but also time you could dedicate to your paying clients.

You also don’t want to say no to every opportunity (no matter how fearful you are of public speaking) because you’ll miss out on helping others and also getting your name out to potential clients.

The trick is to be strategic about it.

If you start to get an unmanageable amount of requests, then it’s time to consider doing one or both of the following:

  • Include presentations into your business as an additional revenue stream since your topic is in high demand. Then charge accordingly.
  • Limit the number of free gigs you do per year to only a few. This will require you to be selective in which organization you want to donate your time and expertise to.

Why You The Public Speaker Are Worth It

Public speaking or performing on a stage can be an extremely stressful thing. In fact, it’s the number one fear, before death at number five and loneliness at number seven.

It can even be stressful for those who love it or have done it for years. Ozzy Osborne has been performing onstage for over 40 years and admits to still getting jitters before every show.

Even though I’m energized during or right after a big presentation, I experience a looming sense of dread the week leading up to it.

If you also experience this kind of stress, it can be a tremendous cost to you, including lost sleep or sickness from nervousness.

In addition, you’re sharing your expertise, which is basically your intellectual property. It’s what your clients are already paying you for.

You deserve to be paid for your knowledge, and you also need to be fair to your paying clients!

If you have knowledge and expertise that people want, then it’s in demand.

Don’t worry if you present it in a different way from other popular speakers. As long as you’re providing something helpful in an engaging way using your own unique approach, then you’re worth getting paid something.

And if none of the above convinces you you’re worth it, then consider this: it’s biblical. Both I Timothy 5:18b and Luke 10:7 states, “the worker deserves his wages.”

Lori Bumgarner is the owner of paNASH, a passion and career coaching service that helps people get unstuck and pursue their passions and find work they love.

The Singular Pursuit of Comrade Bezos – Member Feature Stories – Medium

It was explicitly and deliberately a ratchet, designed to effect a one-way passage from scarcity to plenty by way of stepping up output each year, every year, year after year. Nothing else mattered: not profit, not the rate of industrial accidents, not the effect of the factories on the land or the air. The planned economy measured its success in terms of the amount of physical things it produced.
— Francis Spufford, Red Plenty
But isn’t a business’s goal to turn a profit? Not at Amazon, at least in the traditional sense. Jeff Bezos knows that operating cash flow gives the company the money it needs to invest in all the things that keep it ahead of its competitors, and recover from flops like the Fire Phone. Up and to the right.
— Recode, “Amazon’s Epic 20-Year Run as a Public Company, Explained in Five Charts”

via The Singular Pursuit of Comrade Bezos – Member Feature Stories – Medium

My fav: newsletter

This is the Brain Pickings midweek pick-me-up: Once a week, I plunge into my 12-year archive and choose something worth resurfacing and resavoring as timeless nourishment for heart, mind, and spirit. (If you don’t yet subscribe to the standard Sunday newsletter of new pieces published each week, you can sign up here – it’s free.) If you missed this year’s highlights, you can see the best of Brain Pickings 2018 in one place. And if you find any value and joy in my labor of love, please consider supporting it with a donation – over these twelve years, I have spent tens of thousands of hours and tremendous resources on Brain Pickings, and every little bit of support helps keep it going. If you already donate: THANK YOU.

FROM THE ARCHIVE | John Steinbeck on Good and Evil, the Necessary Contradictions of the Human Nature, and Our Grounds for Lucid Hope

steinbeckalifeinletters.jpg?w=680There are events in our personal lives and our collective history that seem categorically irredeemable, moments in which the grounds for gratefulness and hope have sunk so far below the sea level of sorrow that we have ceased to believe they exist. But we have within us the consecrating capacity to rise above those moments and behold the bigger picture in all of its complexity, complementarity, and temporal sweep, and to find in what we see not illusory consolation but the truest comfort there is: that of perspective.

John Steinbeck (February 27, 1902–December 20, 1968) embodies this difficult, transcendent willingness in an extraordinary letter to his friend Pascal Covici — who would soon become his literary fairy godfather of sorts — penned on the first day of 1941, as World War II was raging and engulfing humanity in unbearable darkness. Found in Steinbeck: A Life in Letters (public library) — which also gave us the beloved writer on the difficult art of the friend breakup, his comical account of a dog-induced “computer crash” decades before computers, and his timeless advice on falling in love — the letter stands as a timeless testament to the consolatory power of rehabilitating nuance, making room for fertile contradiction, and taking a wider perspective.


John Steinbeck

Steinbeck writes on January 1, 1941:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngSpeaking of the happy new year, I wonder if any year ever had less chance of being happy. It’s as though the whole race were indulging in a kind of species introversion — as though we looked inward on our neuroses. And the thing we see isn’t very pretty… So we go into this happy new year, knowing that our species has learned nothing, can, as a race, learn nothing — that the experience of ten thousand years has made no impression on the instincts of the million years that preceded.

But Steinbeck, who devoted his life to defending the disenfranchised and celebrating the highest potentiality of the human spirit, refuses to succumb to what Rebecca Solnit has so aptly termed the “despair, defeatism, cynicism[,] amnesia and assumptions” to which we reflexively resort in maladaptive self-defense against overwhelming evil. Instead, fifteen centuries after Plato’s brilliant charioteer metaphor for good and evil, Steinbeck quickly adds a perceptive note on the indelible duality of human nature and the cyclical character of the civilizational continuity we call history:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngNot that I have lost any hope. All the goodness and the heroisms will rise up again, then be cut down again and rise up. It isn’t that the evil thing wins — it never will — but that it doesn’t die. I don’t know why we should expect it to. It seems fairly obvious that two sides of a mirror are required before one has a mirror, that two forces are necessary in man before he is man. I asked [the influential microbiologist] Paul de Kruif once if he would like to cure all disease and he said yes. Then I suggested that the man he loved and wanted to cure was a product of all his filth and disease and meanness, his hunger and cruelty. Cure those and you would have not man but an entirely new species you wouldn’t recognize and probably wouldn’t like.

Steinbeck’s point is subtle enough to be mistaken for moral relativism, but is in fact quite the opposite — he suggests that our human foibles don’t negate our goodness or our desire for betterment but, rather, provide both the fuel for it and the yardstick by which we measure our moral progress.

He wrests out this inevitable interplay of order and chaos the mortal flaw of the Nazi regime and the grounds for hope toward surviving the atrocity of WWII, which, lest we forget, much of the world feared was unsurvivable in toto:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngIt is interesting to watch the German efficiency, which, from the logic of the machine is efficient but which (I suspect) from the mechanics of the human species is suicidal. Certainly man thrives best (or has at least) in a state of semi-anarchy. Then he has been strong, inventive, reliant, moving. But cage him with rules, feed him and make him healthy and I think he will die as surely as a caged wolf dies. I should not be surprised to see a cared for, thought for, planned for nation disintegrate, while a ragged, hungry, lustful nation survived. Surely no great all-encompassing plan has ever succeeded.

Mercifully, Steinbeck was right — the Nazis’ grim world domination plan ultimately failed, humanity as a whole survived these unforgivable crimes against it (though we continually fail to sufficiently reflect upon them), and we commenced another revolution around the cycle of construction and destruction, creating great art and writing great literature and making great scientific discoveries, all the while carrying our parallel capacities for good and evil along for the ride, as we are bound to always do.

So when we witness evil punctuate the line of our moral and humanitarian progress, as we periodically do, may we remember, even within the most difficult moments of that periodicity, Steinbeck’s sobering perspective and lucid faith in the human spirit.

Complement this particular fragment of the wholly magnificent Steinbeck: A Life in Letters with Albert Camus on strength of character amid difficulty, Hannah Arendt on how we humanize each other, Joseph Brodsky on the greatest antidote to evil, Toni Morrison on the artist’s task in troubled times, and Rebecca Solnit on our grounds for hope in the dark.

Startpreneurs – Newletter I like


So how was your first day of 2019? Managed to stick to a new year’s resolution? Every day is a win, you know. Soon, we will all settle down into the comfort of our routines and regular lives, and 2019 will feel like every other. But, remember to carve out a little time just for yourself. After all, self-care is one of the most important things.

This year, let’s promise to take one step at a time. If you were able to keep even one of your new year resolutions intact throughout yesterday, consider it a win.

And, of course, surround yourself with positive thoughts. Like Helen Keller said, “Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow.”


Team YourStory

Stories you shouldn’t miss

In 2018, M&As were more than just the Flipkart acquisition. Walmart’s acquisition of Flipkart may have dominated headlines in 2018, but the fintech and financial services sectors took centre stage with 20 M&A deals between them. Amazon India also beefed up its digital payments push by acquiring all-in-one aggregator app Tapzo, reportedly for $30 million-$40 million.

What apps does the Gen Z use? Apps make our lives easy. From the moment we wake up to the moment we go to sleep, there’s an app for all our needs. If you need to get a task done or if you just need something to relax, your smartphone has all the solutions. The app revolution that started in 2009 changed the world as we know it. Apps make our smartphones smarter and have now grown into a multibillion-dollar industry.

How to be more innovative? Innovation is not just about ideas, strategy, processes and organisation structure, but also about the behaviour of employees on a daily basis. In John Sweeney and Elena Imaretska’s new book The Innovative Mindset: 5 Behaviours for Accelerating Breakthroughs, we look at innovative individuals and habits that can shape an organisation.

The 2nd edition of Maharashtra Startup Week showcases the potential of B2G opportunities, with access to funding, mentoring and business, and the opportunity to see your solutions create a positive impact on development. After a resounding success with the first edition, the second edition of Maharashtra Startup Week 2019 promises to be better. Open for startups across India. Apply now!

Did you know

Did you know…

… that today is Every Person’s Birthday? New Year’s Day is often known as every person’s birthday because this day gives all of us a chance to change our lives, to be reborn. Start making those resolutions! 🙂


Today’s Inspirational Quote:

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something. So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life. Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it. Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”

— Neil Gaiman