In 100 Words: Pursuit of Happiness

In a group activity during a seminar, one balloon each is given to all 100 participants who were asked to write their name on it. Balloons were collected, jumbled and put in another room. When people were asked to find balloon with their name in 5 minutes, chaos ruled!

Then, speaker asked them to pick up any balloon and give it to person whose name was written on it. Within minutes, everyone had their balloons!

Speaker said, “Happiness is like these balloons. Try to find yours and you won’t get it. Extend it to others and you will get yours!”


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Information is not Knowledge, Knowledge is not Wisdom

“Information is not knowledge.” – Albert Einstein

This is even more true in a hyper-connected world where access to information is abundant. Having more information can, at the best, make you look smart at the tea party but it does not move a needle, unless you do something about what you already know.

We need to move up in the DIKW hierarchy which attempts to define relationship between Data, Information, Knowledge and Wisdom.

Data is discrete collection of signs, symbols and letters. When described properly in a certain frame of reference, data becomes information.

The truth is – knowledge happens when information meets experience, values, contextual understanding about the specific situations, application, intuition and beliefs. Real knowledge is the synthesis of all these. The act of constant learning is the act of constantly synthesizing information with experiences. The act of constantly bridging the gap between what we know and what we do.

Knowledge provides a roadmap to address situations and contextual challenges. But are you solving the right problems for the right reasons?  That is wisdom – the “why” of things we do. Information is “what” and knowledge is” “how”.

Sandra Carey puts it beautifully –

“Never mistake knowledge for wisdom. One helps you make a living. The other helps you make a life.”

Knowledge looks at procedures, methods and application. Wisdom looks at objectives – it clarifies the purpose. And, methods are only useful when purpose is clear.

That is what we need more of – in life and in organizations. Without purpose and clarity, all the techniques, processes and knowledge that we have in our kitty will only add to complexity. What we need is exactly the opposite.

#2014in5Words: Opportunities. Change. Learning. Serendipity. Love.

I came across the hash tag #2014in5Words on Twitter and that prompted me to write more about it. It is interesting how 5 discrete words can describe the core themes of a year gone by. On Twitter, I wrote:

#2014in5Words Opportunities. Change. Learning. Serendipity. Love.

Opportunities.

In 2014, I got plenty of opportunities to make a positive difference to individuals and businesses. Opportunities came in all sizes – from small help requests to large scale consulting assignments and everything in between. I am grateful for all opportunities I encountered to help others, share my lessons and learn a great deal in return. My big lesson?

Opportunity never comes across labeled as opportunity. It comes in form of a problem or situation. Apply your skills, experience and competence to solve the problem without anyone asking you to do so and you increase your chances of getting more opportunities.

Change.

2014 was really a year of transition. Taking up a senior leadership role at a large financial services product company was a leap of faith in many ways. It required me to move to a different city (with family) and experience a completely new culture/people.  I had so many reasons to resist this change, and yet, I just went in head first. This was not merely a change, but a transition. Change is everything that happens externally – outside of us. Change is gross. Transition happen within us, and is subtle. My big lesson?

In change, we grow. In transitions, we evolve!

Learning.

I have been a huge fan of self-initiated, self-directed learning. Everything I have learned so far has been self driven. To continue that streak, I took up a few MOOC courses, read so many good business books, hundreds of blogs and participated/contributed in various Twitter Chats. My big lesson?

Learning agility – ability to learn (and unlearn) constantly and apply those lessons to a specific business context is a critical career (and life) competency.

Serendipity.

I like to plan things in advance and execute those plans with zeal. But after everything experienced in 2014, I learned that serendipity can take you to places you never imagined. It is not the same thing as getting lucky. It is about doing great work and creating the dots. Serendipity connects those dots in mysterious ways and brings forward an opportunity. I was fortunate to be at the right place at a right time on my occasions – not because I planned for it but because I constantly focused on creating the dots by doing, contributing and sharing. My big lesson?

In a networked world, you increase your chances of serendipity if you share your skills, learning and expertise generously to add value; even when the fruits of your efforts are not tangible or visible. 

Love.

“To be excellent at anything we must first love our work”, they say. Like everyone else, I love my family and friends – the foundation on which I can stand tall. But I am also grateful to have work that I really love doing and knowing that it makes a difference. My big lesson?

Love is an ultimate leadership tool – it is about how much care about your people and their well being. Leadership love is about creating an environment and establishing a context where people shine. This ecosystem is the key driver of engagement.

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Over to you! If you were to describe your #2014in5Words, what would those words be? Share them in the comment or via Twitter.

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A Few Lessons From My First MRI Experience

Recently, I had my first MRI scan to diagnose a herniated disc in my lower back area. Not a great thing to have, but fortunately, not very severe either. I just need to be extra careful with my back, do exercises and manage the stress well.

MRI, or Magnetic Resonance Imaging involves going into a narrow magnetic tube through which images of internal body structures are taken. The tube is a cramped cold space and once  the procedure starts, it is extremely noisy with deafening and unpleasant sounds. One almost feels like being in the middle of a battle ground. What started as a terrible experience ended with some interesting lessons for me.

I was very anxious when I was being prepared for the scan. My heart started beating faster as I slid into the cold narrow tube. Though, I don’t have claustrophobia, it was unnerving. A few moments later, the procedure started and the noise added to my already high anxiety. To escape the outer chaos, I decided to focus inwards and close my eyes. Focusing on my breathing helped in stabilizing the heart beats.

I then started focusing my mind on all the wonderful experiences I had in my life so far. Images from my past started filling my mind space. I thought about how I climbed to the treetop as a kid, about a cricket tournament that I recently played, about the nutty chocolate ice cream I had the previous day, about my son happily running around the house, about the warmth of my family, about our travels, about the beautiful flowers and birds I photographed and so on. These vibrant impressions occupied the blank space in front of me. Impressions that were so subtle and profound that I was actually smiling in a very uncomfortable setting.

What did I learn? I learned that there are two worlds – the one inside us and the one outside us. The world within is made of subtle – our experiences, emotions, hopes, aspirations, feelings and dreams. The world outside is gross – made up of stuff (mostly). We see the world outside us through the lens of what lies within us. The world inside us is far more colorful, vivid and powerful than the world outside. In moments of difficult choices or adversity, always pay more respect to the world that is within you.

I learned that our experiences are way too precious than the stuff. The quality of our life is largely determined by the quality of our experiences, not by the stuff we possess. When I decided to think about best things in life, only experiences came forward, not the things. The key is to invest in creating experiences that enrich our lives.

Being boxed in that crammed space with no one to talk to and no gadgets to keep me engaged enabled me to peep inside my own self. Solitude is precious for it allows you to be with your own self and appreciate everything beautiful in our lives.

When I came out of the room, I was thinking about how much we learn about life when we foresee a slightest risk to it. I walked out of the diagnostic center more aware about what really matters to me.

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In 100 Words: The Formula for Success

A man approached JP Morgan with an envelope and said, “Sir, in my hand I hold a guaranteed formula for success, which I will gladly sell you for $25,000.”

JP Morgan replied, “I don’t know what is in the envelope, however if I like it, I will pay you what you asked for.”

JP Morgan opened the envelope, and extracted a single sheet of paper. He gave it one look, a mere glance and paid him the agreed-upon $25,000.

The Paper:

1. Every morning, write a list of the things that need to be done that day.

2. Do them.

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Hat Tip to Tom Peters’ collection of Top 41 Quotes (PDF), which is also a must read!

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

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Photograph by: Tanmay Vora

In 100 Words: Humility, Life and Leadership

Humility

In that leadership workshop, the trainer and the participants were discussing about the importance of humility in life and leadership. Some people defined humility as ‘modesty’ while others said it was about ‘seeing the self as a means to an end and not an end in itself.’

After listening carefully, the trainer said, “Humility is like the banks of a river that gives direction to the flowing water without possessing it.

“In life and leadership, we are only great to an extent we empower others without having any pride in possessing them. It’s about standing with people, not above them.”

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

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A Note of Gratitude: to our friend Kurt Harden (at Cultural Offering) for including QAspire Blog in his annual list “25 Blogs Guaranteed to Make Your Smarter

Sports, Life and Leadership: A Game and a Few Lessons

Table Tennis

When it comes to playing table tennis (ping pong), I like hitting hard smacks. But in this particular game, the opponents were playing defensively. The first few times I tried smacking the ball, I lost the points.

Just then, my doubles partner whispered something in my ears, “Reciprocate your game. Don’t just play your style, but adapt to how they are playing.”  When I did adapt, my game stabilized and that added some pressure on the opponents. I learned that adaptability and contextual alignment is so important – be it family, work or a game of ping pong!

I acted on my partners advice and focused on just one simple thing: pass the ball consistently to the other side of net. No heroic shots when simple shots can do. The opponents lost a few points just trying hard to disrupt my rhythm. I realized that doing simple things consistently over long haul and improvising every single time  can sometimes be more powerful than doing something drastic or heroic in a spurt.

“Sports do not build character. They reveal it.” – John Wooden

 

In a yet another singles game, my opponent was anxious. A technically sound player, he took his game too seriously. He practiced through the day and would clinch his fists to curse himself every time he played a wrong shot. The driving force behind his hard practice was an imaginary fear of failure; that kept him from really enjoying his game. By the time game started, he was already exhausted! When your practice matures, it should help you gain more composure, not more anxiety!

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Don’t miss first part of this post (written in 2010) – A Few Parallels Between Sports, Life and Leadership

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Photo Courtesy: Theunis Viljoen’s Flickr Photostream

In 100 Words: What You Leave Behind

Alfred Nobel

Alfred Nobel once read his own obituary that described him as a “Merchant of Death”. When Nobel’s brother died, a newspaper reported Nobel’s death by mistake. Because Nobel had invented dynamite, the obituary described him as someone who found ways to kill more people faster.

“Is this how I really want to be remembered?” he asked himself. To improve his image, he left 94% of his huge fortune to award people who made greatest contributions to the mankind through their work. (Nobel Prize)

Fortunately, we don’t need such accidental reminders to ask ourselves: How would I like to be remembered?

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

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In 100 Words: The Pursuit of Happiness

My one year old son seems to be in a perennial state of happiness. His playful presence and vibrant energy makes everyone around him happy. He knows how to make the most of simplest of things. “What’s his secret?” I was thinking to myself when heard I this wonderful story from a friend.

A man once asked a Buddhist monk, “I want happiness.” The monk smiled softly and said, “First remove ‘I’ – that is your ego. Then remove ‘want’ – that is your unending desire. Now all you are left with (and were born with) is ‘happiness’.

I got his secret!

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

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In 100 Words: On Success, Happiness and Frugality


One definition of happiness is ‘ability to live life on your own terms.’ But sometimes, we define our happiness based on what others do, and then we try to ‘catch up’ with them compromising our own core values.

Aristippus, a Greek philosopher gained a comfortable position in the Kingdom through constant flattery of the King.

Aristippus once saw Diogenes, another Greek philosopher, dining on a meager meal of lentils and advised, “Learn to flatter the king and you will not have to live on lentils.”

Diogenes replied, “Learn to live on lentils and you will never have to flatter anyone.”

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

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In 100 Words: Why Wait?

Driving to the office everyday is a very humbling experience.

Just a few kilometers on the bustling highway, there is a crematorium with two chimneys emitting light-grayish fume. Passing through a cemetery or crematorium, I come face-to-face with mortality. We are all going to die – and that itself should be a powerful provocation to realize the preciousness of life, to think about one’s priorities, be more human, joyful and grateful.

People who survive near-death experiences often tend to live more intentionally and fully afterwards. My point is: Why wait for such rude reminders when you can do that right away?

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Note: I met super-talented and amazing Kiruba Shankar yesterday and my conversation with him sparked the ideas outlined in this post. He is working on a very exciting project “Unkick the bucket” where he attempts to discover our true priorities in life.

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

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Photo Courtesy: ProAudience on Flickr

In 100 Words: Brian Dyson On Life Priorities

“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling five balls in the air. You name them work, family, health, friends and spirit – and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls – family, health, friends and spirit – are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, damaged, or even shattered. They will never be the same.” Brian Dyson, CEO, Coca-Cola

A good life is all about balancing these balls!

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Image Courtesy: Joe Juggler: The Art of Juggling

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

Great Quotes: Bill Watterson on Life and Success

Bill Watterson, creator of comic series Calvin and Hobbes, gave an inspiring commencement speech at Kenyon College in May 1990 and it made for a very interesting read. Here is an excerpt from this thought-provoking speech:

Selling out is usually more a matter of buying in. Sell out, and you’re really buying into someone else’s system of values, rules and rewards.

Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential — as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.

You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.

To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.

Glorious words of wisdom that got me thinking.  People work long and hard, achieve the so-called success and still feel desperate and incomplete. Why? Probably because they keep doing something they don’t love, just because it pays.

There are plenty of jobs for people who prefer money over meaning. The key to professional success, fulfillment and happiness is to find work you love and a way to get paid for it. Making meaning (and difference), it turns out, is the most potent way to make money.

Watterson concluded his speech with this brilliant quote:

Your preparation for the real world is not in the answers you’ve learned, but in the questions you’ve learned how to ask yourself.

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Bonus: Here is Seth Godin’s view on Doing what you love. He says,

Doing what you love is as important as ever, but if you’re going to make a living at it, it helps to find a niche where money flows as a regular consequence of the success of your idea. Loving what you do is almost as important as doing what you love, especially if you need to make a living at it. Go find a job you can commit to, a career or a business you can fall in love with.

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In 100 Words: Every End is a New Beginning

Tanmay Vora's Flickr Photostream

In one of the podcasts I have, the host tells an interesting story.

While sitting on an airplane next to a gardener, she asked him for one gardening tip. The gardener replied, “My #1 gardening tip is: all plants/flower are only meant to live a certain amount of time. Try to make them live any longer and it makes you a bad gardener!

All good things must come to an end, yet it is human nature to cling on to what works and stretch it till it breaks.

It’s okay if it ends because every end marks a new beginning.

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Also Read: Other 100 Word Parables

12 Lessons on Life and Leadership From Photography

When you take up a new passion, it is so amazing to see how things unfold. Since last few years, I have turned into a photography enthusiast, an avid learner of the art. No, I am not taking any formal photography classes but am learning it by doing in my spare time. You can view my photographic adventures at Flickr.

In Hindi, the word “Drishti” means vision. In Sanskrit, it means a focused and concentrated gaze. Photography requires both. Here are some life and leadership lessons that pursuit of photography has enriched me with:

1. Photography has shown me that life is more beautiful that we think it is; all you need is to see it through a right set of lens (attitude).

2. If you are intentional, you can notice extra-ordinary elements even in most ordinary things and people.

3. It has taught me the importance of seeing, noticing the details and appreciating the elements may not be visible but can still be felt.

4. Someone said, “To photograph a bird, you need to be a part of the silence.” Photography teaches me to remain silent and immerse myself in the current moment. Only then, the magnificent reveals itself.

5. To get your shots right, you need a lot of patience. If you don’t get the right shot, take another. The key is to keep clicking, trying and looking.

6. Sometimes, even most mundane things can extend some profound perspectives. That noticing and enjoying small things is important.

7. What is within invariably manifests itself through our work. We express ourselves with our work and this is true for photography, writing, leadership and everything else we do.

8. Preparation is the key. You have to keep your batteries charged.

9. Create memories even when moments right now may not seem very significant. But with passage of time, those moments get very precious. Life is in the moments.

10. Photography keeps me hooked to possibility thinking. Everything can be seen in multiple perspectives. There are angles and dimensions to everything, only if we are open enough to explore them and pick the right ones.

11. Getting good shots is as much serendipity as preparation. Plan for things, prepare well but never forget that most good shots have an element of serendipity into it. We need to remain open to unexpected encounters and happy accidents, for they shape a great deal of us.

12. Finally, tools and equipments only enhance the vision and are almost never a substitute of a powerful vision. That intrinsic is more powerful than extrinsic.

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Join in the Conversation: Do you engage in alternative pursuits beyond your core area of work? What do you learn from them?

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Also Recommended: Engaging in Alternative ‘Creative Pursuit’ to Be More Effective

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Full of Life 35

When I see my 3 years old daughter playing in the park, jumping, dancing, smiling and completely immersed in her play, I always tell myself, “She is full of life”.

When do you say that someone is full of life? Fly_Baby

  1. When they “pour themselves” in whatever they do.
  2. When they don’t worry much about results…
  3. …but focus on efforts.
  4. When they enjoy what they do…
  5. …and process of doing it.
  6. When they do what they really enjoy doing.
  7. When they stick to it till it gets done.
  8. When they are uber-positive about life.
  9. When they are energetic themselves…
  10. …and generate energy in people around them.
  11. When they are “light” from within.
  12. When there is a “light” within.
  13. When they demonstrate passion…
  14. …and compassion.
  15. When they are courageous.
  16. When they are thoughtful.
  17. When they smile a lot.
  18. When they seek to understand people around them.
  19. When they are amicable, approachable and warm.
  20. When they love other people…
  21. …and are willing to help them.
  22. When they appreciate and encourage…
  23. …more than they crib and vent.
  24. When they take risks…
  25. …and learn from  failures.
  26. When they don’t keep worrying about death as a final consequence…
  27. …but live in the present moment, here and now…
  28. …and make the most of it.
  29. When they focus on being fit..
  30. .. physically and mentally.
  31. When they keep learning different things.
  32. When they focus on gifts “within” them…
  33. .. rather than trying to meet demands that are more “external”.
  34. When they “give” and “help”…
  35. …and build strong and deep relationships based on TRUST.

This post is inspired by my favorite Nicholas Bate – who is a master of putting brilliant ideas in form of very interesting lists. I could have written an long post, but I preferred following Nicholas Bate’s style – short writing that provokes long thinking!

On a second thought, don’t you think these characteristics also apply equally well to leaders? Yes, leaders ought to be full-of-life!

Have a wonderful weekend – enjoy life!

In the photo: I am tossing my daughter in the air, when she was around 9 months old.

Book Review – ‘There’s An Adult In My Soup’ By Kim and Jason Kotecki

adult_in_my_soup_front_1 I am currently reading a simple yet amazing book titled “There’s An Adult In My Soup” by Kim and Jason Kotecki. Thanks to Kim and Jason for sending me a signed copy. They are on a mission fighting “Adultitis” – typical adult syndromes that infect us as we grow. In that process, we loose our child-like qualities that made us happy and jovial. Our daily conundrums trap us and we forget that life happens to us when we are busy making other things happen. This book is a gentle reminder to remain open, optimistic and child-like to enjoy the simple joys of life.

Excerpt From chapter “Trading the Cracker Jack Prizes for the Peanuts”

God has scattered these free prizes all around us: a watercolor sunset, the smell of fresh cut grass, the intricacy of a snowflake. We’re so busy being self-absorbed and stressed-out that we miss them all because they’re hidden just below the surface of our hurried consciousness.

Any book that relates well with your current circumstances will quickly hit you. So if you are going through a “busyness” syndrome and looking out for more from life, this book will quickly break the ice and become a good guiding friend. Better yet, this book will lead to some self-revelation if you are suffering from adultitis but don’t know about it yet! Jason’s illustrations in the beginning of every chapter makes it more interactive and light-weight.

Excerpt From chapter “While you were busy, life passed by”

Here’s what’s really happening: life is passing us by. We miss out on important stuff because we’re convinced that the busyness is a standard operating procedure. And we’re deceived by the mirage that someday, if we work hard enough, our to-do list will be cleared. As David Allen reminds us in Getting Things Done, you will die with things STILL in your to-do list. This never-ending hamster wheel is a part of adulthood we need to escape from now and then.

If you like the book, you will also love reading Kim and Jason’s Blog

End game of life – An important lesson

Recently in a Management Development Program, we were asked “How would you like people to remember you after you die?” We were given 15 minutes to think about it and write it on a piece of paper. Amazingly, one common thought that figured on all 45 participants’ list was – “I want to be remembered as a good human being”. That means, the end game of our lives is “to be good” and not only “to be super rich” or “be super successful” – and that was a great realization.

It is great to have goals for career success and attain things that matter to us. But in this journey of attainment, we must never forget to be good to others.  That is what I learnt from this experience.

On the same lines, I loved this paragraph from Peggy Noonan’s “A Life’s Lesson” on Wall Street Journal where she writes –

In a way, the world is a great liar. It shows you it worships and admires money, but at the end of the day it doesn’t. It says it adores fame and celebrity, but it doesn’t, not really. The world admires, and wants to hold on to, and not lose, goodness. It admires virtue. At the end it gives its greatest tributes to generosity, honesty, courage, mercy, talents well used, talents that, brought into the world, make it better. That’s what it really admires. That’s what we talk about in eulogies, because that’s what’s important. We don’t say, “The thing about Joe was he was rich.” We say, if we can, “The thing about Joe was he took care of people.”

How wonderful! The article ends with an even more thought provoking question  –

“Question: When you die, are people in your profession going to feel your loss? Why not? What can you do better? When you leave, are your customers—in Tim’s case it was five million every Sunday morning, in your case it may be the people who come into the shop, or into your office—going to react like this? Why not?”

Time to ruminate and seek answers! More on this in the posts to come.