Story graph of 5000 TED Talks

Do you wonder how the TED talks narratives flow? Do you wonder if there are any similarities in terms of the ebbs and flows of emotions in each of these narratives.

Building upon my earlier project of open sourcing 5000+ TED Talk narratives, I did something fun. For each of these talks, I built a story graph. Essentially, it is a graph of how the emotions (sentiments, magnitude of the sentiments) vary over the narrative of the entire talk. The results, if I may so, are magical. 

Now you understand the reason for my short hiatus from the blog. I was building this.

Head out to https://labs.saranyan.com/projects/ted/storygraph and play with it. Let me know what you like and don't. One thing that I am still working on is similarity search based on the story telling pattern. The intent is to cluster similar speakers around audience engagement, story telling style, narratives and words used, etc. 

Here are the story graphs from some of my personal favorites.

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The art of stillness

Pico Iyer

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Bring on the learning

Sir Ken Robinson

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The price of shame

Monica Lewinskey

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The power of vulnerability

Brene Brown

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Your elusive creative genius

Elizabeth Gilbert

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The danger of a single story

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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Haunting photos of polar ice

Camille Seaman

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The augmented reality of techno magic

Marco Tempest

Hope you like it. If you do, be an angel and spread the word. 

 

Things to teach our kids

A random assortment of things, mostly values, to teach our kids.

  1. Choose kindness over being right
  2. Be happy for others' lives
  3. Winning is not everything
  4. Only thing to be afraid of is fear
  5. Shut that authority in your head
  6. Strive to get better everyday
  7. What you know eventually does not matter. What you are able to learn matters.
  8. Don't work for grades or praises.
  9. Find the most original way to solve a problem.
  10. Don't interrupt. 
  11. What the other person feels is real.
  12. You cannot always help. 
  13. But you should always try to help.
  14. Everyone is like you. They want more or less similar things.
  15. Teach what you learn. 
  16. Learn what you cannot teach.
  17. Don't give up. 
  18. Learn to rest and slow down.
  19. Sleep heals a lot of things. Even a heavy heart.
  20. There is magic in the world. Don't believe who say otherwise.
  21. What you see is not the only truth.
  22. Aspire to be you.
  23. Your work should be an expression of who you are.
  24. Never work for salary.
  25. Choose your friends wisely. 
  26. It is not important to be a social butterfly.
  27. Stand up to bullies.
  28. Don't be a bully.
  29. You will never run out of worlds to explore.
  30. Boredom is overrated.
  31. Humility is underrated.
  32. Happiness is a choice.
  33. Everything always turns out OK.

What if we don't try to sell?

What if we don't try to sell? What if every interaction we have with someone, our interest is to create value but not push our agenda?

It's hard. There is always something we need. People using our product or service, doing us favors, a job, a vote of approval, money, a break, etc. If every party involved is trying to push their agenda, it makes for an exhausting and rather useless interaction.

I get emails from random people telling me how their service will solve a problem they perceive I have. I respond to them once in a while telling them that is not a problem, but they are not listening. 

If we don't try to sell, we can listen better. Maybe, there is something we can do to truly create value for someone. It is also possible that where we create value is somewhere other than what we are trying to sell. But, that chance is lost when we are focussed on pushing our agenda.

Your contribution is your depth

What do you understand best? What is intuitive to you where on top of the skills you acquired, your intuition and curiosity always kicks in? What is that one thing where your insights are always cherished because they bring something unique every time?

What is the thing that pulls you in like gravity? What do you fall into naturally? How deep have you fallen? What is the one thing that you will do if all the burdens and responsibilities of life are off your shoulders?

Where is your depth? Have you meditated on finding what it is, if you don't know it already? That, I believe is what the world needs from you.

You can call it passion or natural pull. It is the place where we find ourselves most of the time when our mind is at its extreme, calm or hyperactive.

Your depth will take you into realms unexplored. Whether it is about a topic, subject, process or idea, because your heart yearns for depth, you will go to charters that others cannot. Your passion is the right to passage.

There should be something that you care about. What is that? What can you do to make your life that something? Can you make that plan?

The world will be better that way.

What does tomorrow's workplace look like?

  1. Flat. Small teams of cohorts around a mission.
  2. Titles are tied to functions and not status. Doer, Team Lead, Builder, Tester, Programmer, etc. 
  3. Decision making is federated and consensus driven (think Paxos in computer science, if you know that).
  4. Responsibility before authority
  5. Open culture. Data is shared about customers, about problems, about performance, about salary, etc.
  6. Everyone is a leader or a potential leader.
  7. There are no specialists. Only problem solvers.
  8. People don't work for bonuses or payouts. There are way too many options to make money.
  9. Artificial pressures won't work. Passion and ownership trumps authority.
  10. More beneficial to collaborate than compete.
  11. No need to stay within any walls. Literally and metaphorically.
  12. No unproductive meetings. Small cohort stays focussed on the problem and always collaborating.
  13. The barrier to building tools to get a job done more efficiently is low.
  14. People will not be dependent on managers to solve their problems or approve a request for tools or software.
  15. There will be no managers. Only leaders.
  16. Companies that intersect where technology is heading will be relevant. Others not so.

 

Evolving LinkedIn as a true connection platform

Here are some more ideas on how LinkedIn should evolve. This probably is true for any platform that attempts to create value by bringing people together.

  • First metric that needs to be extracted is a first order mapping on what people are thinking when they are using the platform and how that translates to a series of actions. I am not talking about product personas, but a series of intents for those personas and how they go about achieving those intents with or without the aid of the platform.
  • Time to achieve my intent. The only way to get here is to narrow the focus and create an ideal experience for one user. When you have millions of users, finding that one ideal user is hard. How do you even find that person, whose experience if done right will change the story of the entire platform? But these people exist. AirBnB did an interesting thing when they asked what is the next version of their platform. They looked at Hollywood movies and tried to recreate an experience similar to what we see in movies for one of their users. Who is that user? Even if that matters very little, what is that ideal movie like experience. An ideal movie experience for linkedIn might be one of the following or something else.
    • I want to lead an entrepreneur through an entire experience of connecting with people, interviewing and raising capital.
    • I want to connect a community builder organically around finding the right people to network and building a community that truly cares about a cause.
    • I want to empower an inventor with the right resources and people to connect to, and provide tools to ship the invention.
    • I want to empower an employee to grow in her career by providing a curated learning opportunity that is customized and personal.
  • Creating custom dream like experiences take a narrow focus. From a wide (lets focus on our millions of users) perspective, we need to narrow this to one user and work with them for weeks to find the ideal dreamlike experience, and then widen the focus to identify things that we can do for everyone.

What is this dream experience for a LinkedIn user? It is a platform that can truly empower today's workforce and create tomorrow's workplace, which is going to be vastly different than what we know today.

I cannot think of a more relevant platform today that is doing a lot of irrelevant things without focussing on how tomorrow's workplace will look like. I really wish they dig deep and reinvent. We care about this and that is why we show up here everyday. Me, and millions others.

Please pick yourself up.

 

Systems and Reality

With what granularity are we looking at the world around us? Nature is emergent, which means that smaller patterns repeat to form larger patterns, which in turn repeat to form even larger patterns. It applies for everything. The granularity with which we view the world is important because it affects our today’s choices and tomorrow’s possibilities. 

The granularity decides how we view the world and it can be determined by looking at the choices we have made so far and what consistent patterns they follow. 

Data reveals patterns and behavior. In fact, that is the only thing it is good for. It is used for predicting behavior. Because it is hard for a majority of people to change their behaviors, the patterns that data shows will most probably hold good. And as a side effect, data can be used to create a system that will keep us addicted to our existing behavioral patterns. Such a system provides the entertainment and distraction that majority of us need to keep us out of boredom. 

Like the earth orbiting steadily at a pace where its centripetal force balances gravitational force from the sun, we will be stuck in an orbit defined by our granularity of the world we see plus the systems under whose influence we are. That is our comfort zone. We see things the way it is shown to us, because even the granularity we view the world with, is constantly changing by the systems who hold the pull over us. The systems are smart. They also give the majority of us a tiny bit of intellectual stimulation, just enough to gratify without creating the yearning for something more grand than what we do,  a calling of some sort, which is the critical force that will allow us to break out of the orbit. Such a system is by nature designed to keep us in orbit.

I am not advocating for breaking out of the orbit but just be aware of it. To be aware of the choices we make, and the influences of the systems around us designed to keep us in orbit. Because the systems that can keep us in orbit, a.k.a., distracted, by nature are designed to influence our lives.  

And if need to snap out of the orbit, it takes a force greater than the gravitational pull that is currently balancing our centripetal force. So, logically, one needs to apply an additional force to break out this. The force should be comprised of two parts. The first is a force greater than the pull of the artificial systems that have become integral to our lives and two, knowledge of a different system, whose pull is far greater than the pull of the system we are currently under. 

Assuming we snap out of the current orbit and are drawn into a new one, what happens then? I feel that the pattern will repeat.

We are under a different system. It will influence our perspectives. But, nevertheless the same.

In a world of systems layered on top of one another, how can any person differentiate reality from fiction? What is reality anyway? And does the world hold all the realities in it and if so, are there paths still open to these? Can there be a system that is designed to preserve reality, as snapshots of time? And, can those snapshots function independently without the influence of a ‘new’ external system? In such a case, would such a world evolve differently, perhaps slower or naturally, without a new catalyst to accelerate its growth?

Based on the granularity we see, what we perceive as reality would be different. Let’s define the fundamental unit of (perceived) reality as what we consider normal. It’s shaky ground but is least disrupting to our beliefs. But it’s shaky ground because what we consider normal will change. But the trick there is for the change to happen slowly with enough cues and signals that slowly work around the edges of our perception. It is like a balloon where every puff of air expands the scope of what is contained inside making the new information part of the reality until only the new information remains and takes over. Like survival of the fittest. The systems around us are designed to transition us or even migrate us, without breaking our sanity.

We are under the influence of such systems everyday.

Then, a society that wants to be free of influence from such systems, needs to look beyond the most obvious systems. The granularity at which you see things should be beyond the obvious. We cannot go too microscopic because all we might be doing is looking beyond in time, and what is to say that we won’t arrive at the same spot we are today. We can go really macroscopic, even at the level of conscious. But that level of abstract thinking is not something we are good at. As a race, we thrive on something tangible to grip and feel at. And from the abstract thinking, we have to invariably come to a place that is still a system. It maybe a different one, but will still be one.

Community of product managers?

Following up from my previous post about LinkedIn Delta, I am thinking of an open source, let's make the world better model of product management. What if there is an open community of product managers, who work on product ideas for a big ideas? Ideally, you want this group to be focussed on big hairy problems (wicked problems, etc) but nothing stops the group from focussing on products that they love already and motivated to improve.

The premise is that we use a product because we find value in it.  And, we know what will make the product better. And, we can talk to our friends and people we know, who use the product to validate if our hypothesis is right. This is classic product work anyway. But the change is that we will apply our product thinking to the products we use even if we are not directly responsible to make that product better. It is 'acting like an owner' approach to the products we use. 

It is similar to open source in software, where a tribe comes together to solve a software problem. But unlike software, there is very little structure and the outcome is not tangible. And, this will be a thought exercise to begin with. But, I feel that a path will emerge out of all that thinking to either improve an existing product or create an altogether new product.

The reward model is tricky. In software open source, the reward is usually a sense of gratification, connection with community, shipping code, etc. In a product design open source model, I don't know what can be a tangible gratification. But unless we experiment with this model, we won't know.

 

The LinkedIn Delta

I love what LinkedIn stands for but I hate how they go about doing it. If I was a product person at LinkedIn, I would do the following -

1. Redesign the feed home page, to optimize discovery. I don't know if there is a strong science behind the recommended news and follow items, but it is not working. Not for me, and not for a lot of people I know. I want to see 'connection possibilities.' Connection possibility should be based on identifying people who are working on similar missions in their life. Somebody who cares about education, should be able to find similar people who care about it. 

What we are doing here is allowing each other to find the tribe they should be part of. And, facilitate a possibility of connecting with the right people based on topic and not just mutual connections.

2. LinkedIn connection model is (still) based on mutual connections. People abuse that a lot. There are random connection requests all the time and people don't know half of their connections. They are stale. It is too much work to keep that list clean. This is because the connection model is based on an agenda - of selling something today or in future. 

What if LinkedIn was a platform to collaborate and solve some real problems in the world? What if LinkedIn was a platform that built a diverse team of people with different backgrounds and skills needed to solve global problems? 

3. Some of the things the platform does are quite rudimentary and it feels to me that the people who designed it don't love their product enough.

The notifications are silly at times. Why congratulate someone for 'Current unemployed and looking for an opportunity' because they changed their status? These are simple table stakes for a serious platform.

4. I understand that money might be somewhere else. The paid platform for professionals and recruiters has more bells and whistles. I was a paid member for a while, but the benefits were not in terms of better insights, but rather around less restrictions (search capabilities, Inmail credits, etc). I didn't find a lot of value in it. 

5. Another of 'I don't understand my users and my product well' scenario is that the side panel of influencers rarely changes. Even after you follow the recommended influencers. It just sits there with a check mark. What a waste of real estate and an opportunity. Again, table stakes.

The core group of users use the platform to stay in touch with the industry. They want to connect with people who share not only similar interests but is able to offer intellectual growth. They want to connect with people who they can rally together with to solve a problem that they care about. The world can be a better place this way and LinkedIn has the chops to do it, but it is sad to see that they take an easy route to maintain the status quo.

I want to see this. I believe in the leadership and I know few excellent people there. But some gutsy experiments today will take LinkedIn to the next level. 

Creator, Consumer and Spreader

Who are you? Are you a creator of content, consumer, or a spreader. All three always? Do you switch roles time to time?

But are you honest being who you are? Creators need to create something that does not push an agenda of self-interest. They need to truly create content because they believe what they are creating makes the world a better place.

When you are consuming content, are you also actively spreading content that is worth spreading? Are you switching roles to support a worthy artist? Are you spreading stuff that think make the world a better place? Consumers are also curators for better information and they should actively spread good ideas that they encounter.

In every place, we have a gap. Good artists go unnoticed because someone does not take the extra step to switch roles from a consumer to a spreader.

In the same note, if we as consumers, are not serious in our jobs as curators, we will easily miss seeing the aggrandizing agenda of someone. It is a serious job.

This probably is a rant. Maybe because I see there are too many artists in the world who are toiling away without a break. Maybe because there are too many stories that go unshared and the one that is being shared is not worth sharing. I don't know. But, I do know that this is a problem we should definitely think about.

Don't be a parked domain.

If you have stayed at 'one type of job' for the last five years, I don't want to hire you. I am not advocating that you change companies but you should have failed in your current company, a lot. And, you got better with every failure.

Yes, you are exceptional at what you do. You are a specialist. Yes, there is a role for you in a company that is happy maintaining status quo. A company that will fast become irrelevant because what worked 10 years back will not work in 2 years. You are a specialist there. So what?

What have you learned in your current job? How have you attempted to keep up with the changing world? How have you led from inside? How have you rallied troops to experiment, change the system, and fail? How have you constantly innovated? Tell me those.

The is a world of builders and creators. Technology is a commodity. You either create technology or leverage it to solve real problems, and help the world become a bit better than what it was yesterday. If you are not doing it, you are just sitting there, like a parked domain, waiting to be bought because you have a cool resume.

Some design considerations for AI

  1. We need to first develop models where we can co-exist with AI. And, the AIs can co-exist with us. I am not talking about a robot physically sitting next to us. But, we need to be aware of their presence in the form of algorithms, tools or technology. And, they should be aware of our presence by constantly remembering who they serve by aid of interacting via feedback.  
  2. Co-existence with AI is the first step to collaborating with AI. Today, people don't have a good intuitive feel for AI because it feels like magic. It is top down and driven into their lives. It's not a choice. It has to be become a choice to permeate mainstream among the long tail population. It can only become only a choice when people recognize (even at a high level) what the technology can do.
  3. No technology can work like magic. We need to change that perception. Machine learning, AI, NLP, Chatbots, etc, are more buzz words in the industry today in majority of places and people use it as leverage. But we rarely get into an intellectual conversation around what the technology can accomplish and how to design for the technology to be effective.
  4. Current designs and interaction models will fail in a world where AI co-exists among us.
  5. Collaboration with AI is key to developing better algorithms. Today, there is a fair bit of bias. The technology should become self-correcting. As it (AI in the form of product, technology, algorithm, etc) collaborates with more people, it should be able to heal its biases.
  6. Ethics are important. Most of AI algorithms operate on understanding patterns and behavior, which requires a lot of data. The data comes from its interaction with people. We should be open to sharing what data is being used for what. A healthy debate needs to happen among not just the researchers and scientists but the larger community in general,

 

Responsibility before authority

In the authority before responsibility model, you are waiting to be picked and blessed as a leader so that you can tell people what to do.

The responsibility before authority model is different. You don't care about being picked by someone to lead. You rally the troops and march towards a shared cause. You are an owner of the cause. You don't need someone to choose you.

Too often in workplaces, I stumble on this scenario where someone either plays the authority card or the lack of. Don't wait to be picked by authority to be an authority. Rather, take responsibility. You pick yourself because you are doing the right thing. Rest does not matter.

We need to be modern day librarians for our kids

Wikipedia and the huge databanks of information have basically eliminated the library as the best resource for anyone doing amateur research (grade school, middle school, even undergrad). Is there any doubt that online resources will get better and cheaper as the years go by? Kids don’t schlep to the library to use an out-of-date encyclopedia to do a report on FDR. You might want them to, but they won’t unless coerced.

They need a librarian more than ever (to figure out creative ways to find and use data). They need a library not at all.
— Seth Godin (Stop Stealing Dreams)

I resonate with this quote a lot. We live in a world where information is accessible to everyone. This is obvious. But what is not obvious is how to find the information I need from the clutter of everything I don't. It is like mining.  When we find the authentic bits, we need to preserve it and share it.

In the connection and information economy, we need to teach our children how to discover information that is authentic. We need to build those tools. 

In fact, I believe each of us should be curators of information but we can't. Unfortunately not all of us question our sources. Not all of us has challenge the status quo. Not all of us dig deeper. In that case, how are we able to teach that to our children? So does the destiny of our children and future society depend on those few parents and teachers who have the skills and guts? Unfortunately, I feel the answer will be yes, at least for the near term.

So, new age librarians are important. They are people who have the skills to curate the web. They have the skills to build the tools to curate the web. They have the skills to teach everyone to curate the web. If you have such skills, the society needs you more than ever. Our children need you. And, we are counting on you on you to show up, and reveal yourself. We are counting on you to take the problem head on.

Some (startup) schools are tackling this. But, they are few and they are costly. We can easily scale this if us, those with skills, start caring more, and show up. 

 

Can the internet redesign itself?

We all hate Ads on a webpage. Right?

The problem is not so much the ads but how it comes in the way of consuming information. I don't mind the ads living in the corner, letting me do my job but they just don't. They are like a toddler, incessantly demanding my attention.

Ad blockers really don't help because for one, they only address the symptom but most websites are designed to optimize ad revenue and not really information consumption.

I have been dabbling a project in my head for a long time. What if the internet redesigns itself to serve the users rather than advertisers? It should be possible either via AI powered tools that are optimized not for ad impressions, but for user frustration. My multiple clicks to get somewhere after a search engine brought me to a website and endless navigation followed by a drop off is pretty close to me yelling in frustration. So, why not optimize for that.

Here is another idea. We can redesign the internet one page at a time. We can condense a webpage to its core essence and log that information somewhere. Much like Wikipedia, but for all websites. 

Internet badly needs an overhaul. It's riddled with noise, click baits, incessant ads that get in the way. I just need the content that's all. I am willing to pay for such an internet. Maybe that's where a possible innovation can happen. A gateway of some sort where I pay for clean internet. 

Rituals are important

I come from a culture where there are a lot of rituals. I have grown up admiring few, hating few, questioning few and complying with few. I always wondered why my family went through these rituals when they logically didn't make sense. And, there were numerous times where these rituals were frustrating.

It took me a while to get it. I know why they are important.

Rituals give you a trigger to do something. And, they are tangible. It is easy to attach a thought or a habit to the act of a ritual. They don't have to logically make sense. It does not matter what your ritual is but what matters is the trigger it generates. 

In that context, rituals are powerful. You can essentially create a ritual to drive a habit or a behavior. They work splendidly for that.

Usually once a few months in my news feed, I see articles about 'morning rituals' of successful people. People obsess over what there rituals are versus why they are important. Honestly, I feel it does not matter what your ritual is. You can use any action as a trigger to energize your body. You do it consistently, every day, it becomes a ritual.

Do you have a ritual? Leave a comment.

 

First scale issue

While my job is always around dealing with scale issues, I have never encountered that with my personal projects, until today.

My website went down and that makes me happy. Ironic, but true. First, I thought I had messed something up (highly likely). But it turns out that the traffic took it down and my cheap servers didn't like the load they were seeing. First scaling problem. Yeah!

It is a great feeling to build something that people find useful. But it is only a beginning. The challenge is to continue building things that people love. And, shipping and iterating. Now, my mind is flooded with ideas on how to optimize the HBR project to handle more concurrency and load and I can spend time on it because it is real now.

 

Let's teach our kids to dream

Let’s talk about math and science and kids. Why should your kid do advanced mathematics? Why is it important for your child to understand probability at age 10 and calculus at age 13? Ivy League schools, advanced degrees, good jobs, high salaries, etc? 

The problem is that we teach our kids our way of thinking and if we are not self-aware of our limited thinking, we end up doing a great disservice to the children. There are advanced math centers everywhere around my house. One day I walked into one and asked them why should my son do advanced mathematics? The director of that school said - to stay competitive and go to good schools.

Here is the thing about math and science. The reason I want my child to understand math and science is because they are best way describe our Universe. That’s it. No Ivy leagues. I want my child to love the Universe and ponder about its workings. Then, the tools come and they will stick with him because he has found the need for them.

Education is changing. We live in a world of makers. We live in a world of creators and connectors and inventors. Information is open and knowledge is everywhere. Nobody can stop a passionate learner. Nobody can hide tools from a passionate tinkerer. The world is not what it was ten years back. Then, why are our teaching methods still the same?

We don’t teach kids to dream these days. Schools are designed to make them conformists and good citizens of the society, which has some value. However, that is not enough. The most powerful thing children have that most adults do not is their unbounded dreams. And, a deep belief that their dreams are possible. Slowly with every interaction, we dowse those dreams and replace it with limited thinking that we call pragmatism.

Every child needs to dream. I wish there is a dreaming hour in every school where the only thing the child does is to day dream. And, then they share their day dreams with others around them. And, then they break into groups and talk about similar dreams and what it means. We need it. Badly. 

 

Maybe schools won’t do it. Because it is eerily unstructured for them. Be we can do it at our homes. Right?

About mentorship.

Assortment of things about mentorship.

  1. Mentorship can come from anywhere. You just need to be open to receive it. 
  2. Mentorship can come in any form. Feedback, advise, help, healthy criticism, opportunity to fail, learn and succeed, etc.
  3. Common mentorship models advice finding a mentor for an area and working with them. And, having different mentors for different areas in your life. That is not the only way. 
  4. On the contrary, you don't need dedicated mentors. You just need enough people taking interest in what you are doing and wanting you to succeed.
  5. Getting people who invest in you is a reflection of your good karma. If you care enough about the world around you, the world will inevitably start caring about you.
  6. When someone is giving an advice, remember that they are doing it because they care about you. There is too much going on in this world and in people's lives that they can easily choose to do something else. Respect the intention.
  7. Openness to receive advice and ego are not good friends. They usually cannot live together.
  8. Every person has something to offer, a thought they have synthesized into a perspective, a skill that they have honed or an insight they have garnered. It can come from any interaction not just dedicated mentor sessions.
  9. Asking someone to be a mentor is usually pointless unless your requests are tangible and time-bound.

 

Exploring Harvard Business Review through AI

From 1956 - 2017, Harvard Business Review has published over 6500 articles (6656). And these articles cover 148 topics. Over the last few weeks I have been building bunch of tools to extract and analyze the data from HBR. In particular, I wanted to understand what are the topic trends over the years. 

Once I had extracted that bit, I noticed few interesting themes emerge across the spread of articles. I built an AI engine that extracted themes out of each of these articles. Here is the first iteration of this work.

This is a work in progress. For now, you can view the trends, click on a topic to view all the articles in that topic, and click on the themes (autogenerated by my AI engine) to explore articles further. I will add more stuff to this, but for now, enjoy this offering.