Recently, I began a free newsletter "The Future does not fit in the Containers of the Past" where I share perspectives, points of view and provocations on an eclectic number of topics from leadership to poetry. The underlying connection between the topics I write about and the goal of the newsletter is to help people see, feel and think differently about growing themselves and their careers.

Here, from the newsletter, are six thoughts on how to grow yourself.

If any of these pieces resonate with you, please feel free to subscribe to the absolutely free newsletter they are distilled from by entering your email address here: rishad.substack.com

1. Loss Love Learning

I was recently featured at a Lunch and Learn Session of the San Francisco Bay Area Innovation Group and one of my answers seemed to particularly resonate.

When you live your life are there some underlying beliefs and truths that drive you or you measure yourself against? If we are to grow where are we trying to go?

I have long believed that if there is a competition it is not with other people but to get better every day and to get closer to what you believe or your ideals. Your success is not housed in other people’s minds (what they think of you) but in their hearts (what they feel about you) and in your mind (what you think of yourself).

I shared that I believe that in many ways Life is about Loss, Love and Learning (the 3 L’s)

Loss is central to the human experience in three ways. The first is we often lose in our attempts to succeed. We lose pitches, Clients, jobs and opportunities. Many times, we win. Some people win little and others win a lot. But we all lose. But these losses are not the big ones. The second bigger losses are the losses we will face of loved ones and friends either because relationships end, or death comes, and our final loss is that of our lives.

How we live amidst this loss defines a large part of life.

The joy we make is because time is precious, and this moment of victory may not last forever. Given that loss is part of human existence it pays to be kind and to think about how to help those in loss for do not ask for whom the bell tolls since it tolls for you.

A big part of what makes life worth living despite the guarantee of loss is the hope of love and joy of learning. Love of people, of work, of art, of culture. Love may not compute but computers do not love. There is a great deal of progress made over generations on who one can love, the ability to do things one loves and because of modern technology to be exposed to new worlds, horizons and things to love.

And learning is particularly joyous. Learning in its first form is building knowledge. With great knowledge and practice we build skills and craftsmanship. Learning to see things from other perspectives gives us understanding. Sometimes if we are lucky, we can graduate from knowledge, skills and understanding to wisdom.

2. Be Open

Today, like never before, there is a pull towards being closed.

Our online media diets tend to be polarized as streams of algorithmic feeds optimized to engage, addict and make us feel good about ourselves may leave us believing that the stink of some of our more flatulent thoughts have the aroma of Chanel No.5

Many politicians want to build walls, exit multi-state treaties and organizations, demonize the other, look away from reality, facts and truth.

Nationalism rises despite all the big challenges and opportunities are global in nature.

Let us start with the letter C.

Covid-19 is global. Climate Change is global. China’s impact is global.

Two new books (one looking back and one imagining forward) build the case for openness.

The Economist which reviewed Johan Norberg’s book says…

“Open” is clear, colourful and convincing, marshalling evidence from a range of eras and civilisations. The Roman Empire ceased to prosper when it ceased to be open. Christianity became the established religion, and sought to crush all others. “This new intolerance…led to vicious conflicts…between Christians and pagans, who saw their old gods being banned and their temples torn down.” Persecuted pagans joined Rome’s enemies, even welcoming barbarian invaders as liberators.

Human history, in Mr Norberg’s telling, is a cacophony of drawbridges being lowered and then raised. Mathematics and medicine flourished under the cosmopolitan Abbasid caliphate, but froze when religious conservatives won control. By driving out Jews, Muslims and heretics, he argues, the Inquisition helped impoverish Spain (between 1500 and 1750 the Spanish economy actually shrank).

China’s Song dynasty, which welcomed Muslim traders, Indian monks and Persians, developed paper money, water-powered textile machines and the makings of an industrial revolution 400 years before the West. But later dynasties turned inward and stagnated. Ming officials smashed clever machines, banned overseas trade on pain of death and curbed movement within China itself. The Manchus were even worse: to prevent contact with the outside world, in 1661 they forced the whole population of the southern coast to move 30km inland. A century later the Qianlong emperor banned or burned any books that seemed sympathetic to previous dynasties, including a great encyclopedia of economic and technical matters.

Matthew Ygleisias imagines forward and builds the case that if the United States wishes to be a dominant power in the future when facing a billion strong China (about to become the worlds largest economy in five years) or a fast growing billion person India it should be far more open to immigrants and even with 600 million new people, we will be less dense than France or Germany are today.

As someone who grew up in India and has been to 22 cities in China I am not sure why their rise should be an issue because the world is not a zero sum game except for the small minded. Up to 200 years ago these were the worlds largest and most powerful economies but a combination of colonization, strange politics and most importantly a failure to innovate and keep up with Science and Technology set them back. But, if the US is to remain as amazing as it has been it needs to remember its roots are in immigrants, a love of science and technology and freedom of thought and innovation all connecting with each other and the world.

Be Open. To other ideas. To other perspectives. To other people. To other cultures.

3. Mind the Gap

Yesterday I attended an online talk from London by Alain de Botton of The School of Life. He talked about his new book “An Emotional Education”, noting that while many people teach skills and expertise very few people focus on how to live an emotional life. He decried much US self-help books that believe in the achieving perfection and having it all.

Today in the Instagram age so many of us try to be pixel perfect. But life is not pixel perfect.

In fact most of life is “minding the gap”. The gap between who we are and what we want to be. The gap in communication between any two people. The gap between what we say/project externally and what we believe/live with internally

The most contented people tend to be those who have narrowed this gap or being aware of it find ways to accept that life is incomplete, imperfect, often incomprehensible. They are authentic, trustworthy, happy within themselves not needing constant external validation and have strong relationships and connections with people. They are vulnerable, empathetic and constantly growing ( often making mistakes as they do)

There are others who project power, fame and wealth but you begin to see that often many have the warmth of a toilet seat, all the external validation they have or seek does not fill the chasm of emptiness that echoes with hollowness and this truth burns and eats their inside even as they smile and blow kisses on the outside.

So what to do?

George Saunders the Author said “Err in the direction of kindness

Today in the world we have much rage.

So best be kind.

Kind to others and to yourself.

This is one way in helping mind the gap.

4. Compound Improvement

The single most powerful concept in Finance is that of compounding.

Compounding interest and compounding returns can over time create wealth or lead one to bankruptcy depending on whether you owe or own capital.

If you start with 12,000 dollars and add 1,000 dollars a month every month for 30 years and it grows at 10 percent you have just under 2.5 million dollars. The key is you set aside a small sum every month for a long time To see how powerful it can be try this calculator.

In a world of change we all may want to consider another way compounding can help us grow in changing times and drive mental, emotional and even financial wealth which is compounding improvement.

If a company can only change and transform if its people change and transform we should each invest in upgrading our own mental and emotional operating systems.

There is so much we cannot control in a world driven by global, demographic, social and technological change but instead of being buffeted about helplessly in a sea of chaos maybe we can try to control and build our ourselves to be better.

Three ways on how you might starting this very minute begin to embrace Compounding Improvement

a) Discipline equals Freedom: This is the title of a book by Jocko Willink, a Navy Seal. Basically if you want to get a grip on the world get a grip on yourself.

b) Invest an hour every day in learning: The world is changing so fast that many of your skills and expertise and mindsets need continuous upgrading. While many us set aside time to exercise to maintain our physical operating system we need to also feed and exercise our minds. The power of this habit is that at the end of a year you will have spent 365 hours learning new things by just doing one hour a day. You will gain compound returns to thought !

c) Deliberate Practice: Professor Anders Ericcson who died last month wrote a book called “Peak” which is the best study of deliberate practice which entails immediate feedback, clear goals and focus on technique. According to his research, the lack of deliberate practice explained why so many people reach only basic proficiency at something, whether it be a sport, pastime or profession, without ever attaining elite status. A great resource for Deliberate Practice is here.

5. Improvise like Jazz

We are living in a jazz age and not a classical one.

In classical music —particularly orchestral music—there is a conductor that musicians follow, sheet music one sticks too and a hushed auditorium one sits in.

Jazz on the other hand is a mix of classical, swing, blues and much more but at its heart its about improvisation. It is about playing off each other. There is no conductor. Rare is there a hushed auditorium but more likely a noisy club or the anguish of a lonely saxophone in a subway station.

Today we are living in a diverse, global and connected world where we have to work together, we have to fuse our different cultures and beliefs and constantly adapt and improvise.

Here is a Spotify List of my favorite jazz you can listen to and if you want subscribe.

6. Read Poetry

I have over 80 books or shelf and a half of Poetry books at home each of which I have significant parts over the past decades. ( Another stack you will note are all the books of Alain de Botton who I mentioned earlier in this piece).


Here are how some Poets have explained the importance of poetry ( I have picked different lines from different poets) …

Perhaps you have been banged about by recent events. It can help to say words, walking helps. Poems help. The meaning of poetry is to give courage. Poems restore to us what is deepest in ourselves. It consoles us. Greatest poetry is written at the borders of what can be said. It makes a strong effort at expressing the unsayable. Poems are perfect words in perfect order.

They help us see and feel as these lines which I have extracted from different poems by James Wright’s book “ The Branch will not Break” which all describe dusk in a midwest prairie farm. Each line is filled with a new way of seeing and whenever I am driving in the evenings outside of Chicago I sense things differently because of these lines. The sensing and seeing also helps me in my writing, my photography and in paying attention…

Silos creep away toward the West

The cow bells follow one another into the distances of the afternoon

The sun floats down, a small golden lemon dissolves in the water

The moon suddenly stands up in the darkness

The moon drops one or two feathers into the field. The dark wheat listens.

And poems reminds us of the passing of time…

Time is an echo of an axe within a wood

The sunlight in the garden hardens and grows cold, we cannot cage the minute within its net of Gold

But one day I know it will be otherwise…

Of all the books of Poetry I have my favorite remains the first book I bought forty years ago which you can see through its wear and tear and is the one I would recommend to anyone wanting to discover the beauty of Poetry. Start with Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Tennyson and Dylan Thomas . It was published first in 1952. Its author died in 1964. You can still get it on Amazon and in most book stores…

Rishad Tobaccowala ( @rishad ) is the author of the bestselling “Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data” published by Harper Collins globally in January 2020. It has been described as an “operating manual” for managing people, teams and careers in the age we live in. The Economist Magazine called it perhaps the best recent book on Stakeholder Capitalism. Rishad is a sought after speaker and advisor who helps people think, feel and see differently about how to grow their companies, their teams and themselves. More at rishadtobaccowala.com

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Rishad Tobaccowala