FF Insights #593: Plateauing out matters much

February 18, 2022: The importance of Priya Ramani’s victory; How to build a startup; Small problems

Founding Fuel

[From Unsplash]

Good morning,

A compelling book we have on our shelves is Mastery by George Leonard. There are many interesting observations he makes about the path to mastery—some of which come from his own experiences. For instance, why do we hit a plateau after taking up something and what happens after that?   

“Early in life, we are urged to study hard, so that we'll get good grades. We are told to get good grades so that we'll graduate from high school and get into college. We are told to graduate from high school and get into college so that we'll get a good job. We are told to get a good job so that we can buy a house and a car. Again and again we are told to do one thing only so that we can get something else. We spend our lives stretched on an iron rack of contingencies.

“Contingencies, no question about it, are important. The achievement of goals is important. But the real juice of life, whether it be sweet or bitter, is to be found not nearly so much in the products of our efforts as in the process of living itself, in how it feels to be alive. We are taught in countless ways to value the product, the prize, the climactic moment. But even after we've just caught the winning pass in the Superbowl, there's always tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. If our life is a good one, a life of mastery, most of it will be spent on the plateau. If not, a large part of it may well be spent in restless, distracted, ultimately self-destructive attempts to escape the plateau. The question remains: Where in our upbringing, our schooling, our career are we explicitly taught to value, to enjoy, even to love the plateau, the long stretch of diligent effort with no seeming progress?

“I was fortunate in my middle years to have found aikido, a discipline so difficult and resistant to the quick fix that it showed me the plateau in sharp, bold relief. When I first started, I simply assumed that I would steadily improve. My first plateaus were relatively short and I could ignore them. After about a year and a half, however, I was forced to recognize that I was on a plateau of formidable proportions. This recognition brought a certain shock and disappointment, but somehow I persevered and finally experienced an apparent spurt of learning. The next time my outward progress stopped, I said to myself, ‘Oh damn. Another plateau.’ After a few more months there was another spurt of progress, and then, of course, the inevitable plateau. This time, something marvelous happened. I found myself thinking, ‘Oh boy. Another plateau. Good. I can just stay on it and keep practicing. Sooner or later, there'll be another spurt.’ It was one of the warmest moments on my journey…

“And despite our society's urgent and effective war against mastery, there are still millions of people who, while achieving great things in their work, are dedicated to the process as well as to the product—people who love the plateau.”

Have a good day!

The importance of Priya Ramani’s victory

In Fiftytwo.in, Menaka Rao does a deep dive into the defamation case filed by MJ Akbar, former Minister of State for External Affairs, against journalist Priya Ramani over her piece on sexual harrassment. A trial court acquitted her last February. But the story is not over yet. Last month, Delhi High Court admitted an appeal filed by Akbar. But, Ramani’s victory last year has already changed the narrative on sexual harrassment for the better. 

Rao writes, “The court’s acquittal of Ramani could also have an important implication on the standard for evidence in sexual harassment cases. ‘This means that the courts are willing to adjudicate on a probability of sexual harassment,’ Chimni said. ‘It means that the threshold of evidence in such cases has been diluted.’

“This is important in a society where the playing field remains gravely unlevelled. ‘We are still in the process of devising an excepted jurisprudence for women in these circumstances,’ Aney, the senior advocate, told me. ‘There is absence of an established set of norms, which are being devised on a case to case basis. It will take a while for this jurisprudence to take some recognised form. And till then you will be left in these situations, where the court wonders whether evidence needs to be looked at in a classical way or in a different way.’

“It does not mean that women are free from the risk of defamation complaints or suits if they speak up about sexual harassment in an open forum, Chimni clarified. ‘All this case has done is to go a step further and say that evidence does not have to be stringent.’

“Despite being a judgment of a lower court, the Ramani decision is the law of the land, at least for now. Akbar’s appeal was admitted by the Delhi High Court last month. One of the appeal’s grounds is that the district court erred in ‘disregarding established law on criminal defamation’ and adjudicated the matter as though it were a sexual harassment case.

“But how is a respondent in a #MeToo-related criminal defamation case expected to conduct her defence without touching upon the fact of sexual harassment? By telling their stories in the witness box, the women shifted the focus away from the narrative of Akbar’s professional achievements.

“Akbar got a taste of what women are subject to during rape trials: having their character and motives publicly questioned.”

Dig deeper

How to build a startup

Every once in a while, we dig through the archives of posts by people such as the coder, writer and investor Paul Graham to figure if the advice they provided a long while ago still stands to scrutiny. When doing that yesterday, we came across one from his archives in 2012 that resonated—on how to think about creating a startup.      

“There are great startup ideas lying around unexploited right under our noses. One reason we don't see them is a phenomenon I call schlep blindness. Schlep was originally a Yiddish word but has passed into general use in the US. It means a tedious, unpleasant task…

“The most dangerous thing about our dislike of schleps is that much of it is unconscious. Your unconscious won't even let you see ideas that involve painful schleps. That's schlep blindness.

“The phenomenon isn't limited to startups. Most people don't consciously decide not to be in as good physical shape as Olympic athletes, for example. Their unconscious mind decides for them, shrinking from the work involved.

“The most striking example I know of schlep blindness is Stripe, or rather Stripe's idea. For over a decade, every hacker who'd ever had to process payments online knew how painful the experience was. Thousands of people must have known about this problem. And yet when they started startups, they decided to build recipe sites, or aggregators for local events. Why? Why work on problems few care much about and no one will pay for, when you could fix one of the most important components of the world's infrastructure? Because schlep blindness prevented people from even considering the idea of fixing payments…

“It's too late now to be Stripe, but there's plenty still broken in the world, if you know how to see it.”

Dig deeper

Small problems 

(Via WhatsApp)

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Warm regards,

Team Founding Fuel

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Founding Fuel

Founding Fuel aims to create the new playbook of entrepreneurship. Think of us as a hub for entrepreneurs- the go-to place for ideas, insights, practices and wisdom essential to build the enterprise of tomorrow. It is co-founded by veteran journalists Indrajit Gupta and Charles Assisi, along with CS Swaminathan, the former president of Pearson's online learning venture.

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