Ravi Mohan's Blog

Saturday, August 04, 2007

On Having Friends Who'll Change the World

A few months ago I and a few friends started meeting at the end of every month for an "iteration review" of how much progress we've made (or not) on our "life work" that month. The structured part of the meeting consists of each participant reporting what went right, what went wrong and what was learned during the preceding month and what the plans for the coming month are. Anyone can ask clarifying questions. This is followed by unstructured discussion over dinner (and drinks, for those who indulge in that particular vice). Apart from the obvious benefits of meeting up with friends regularly, the act of vocalizing what was learned has tremendous value.

The last meeting was focussed, for instance, on the difficulties of transitioning from the habits instilled from working in India's "Silicon Valley" to those needed for doing world class work, particularly in research/scientific software, the price one needs to pay and the metrics of progress. While that was a fascinating discussion, what struck me then was how lucky I am to know people who are unwilling to accept the status quo and exert themselves to become the best they can be.

This extends beyond the attendees of our end of month meetings. I just got back from lunch with another friend I haven't met in a while. I am amazed at how much she has learned in the intervening period and how many different areas of improvement she has targeted for the future. Indian society has the nasty habit of grinding down women who want to excel in any field, but then she has extraordinary potential, so that will be an interesting career to watch. If she ever starts a company, I will be the first to invest in it.

On reflection, I realize that I subconsciously rank people by (a) their potential to excel and (b)the ratio of actual achievement to potential achievement. I pay attention proportional to how high I think they score on these parameters and so I end up ignoring people who, in my subjective opinion, have low scores on both parameters.

I am not very certain that this is the "right" way to judge people or decide who to befriend (I guess I am an unconscious "elitist") but it results in my knowing people who strive to excel. And given the caliber of some of my friends, I effectively end up knowing people who'll change the world.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

You have the option of ignoring fools. And you seem to have a pool of brilliant people to befriend. Count yourself very (very) lucky!

Joe Williams said...

fwiw, these kind of groups are very common among graduate/post graduate students. I am impressed that you are able to form and more importantly sustain such a small group of friends. And as the commenter above notes, you do seem to know quite a few brilliant people, though I would attribute that to being selective rather than lucky.
But then, as a regular reader of this blog, I would expect no less.

Do you plan to formalize and build on such group meetings? I would imagine the group dynamics are very different from those of the typical Linux User Group or X Interest Group where X = Python/Ruby/fad du jour?

Nisha said...

I like this idea a lot. Have you guys tried this in a remote format (i.e., a group blog or email list or something)? I imagine actually having the people around is vital, but I'm curious whether this would work in remote format with a group of people who know each other well (allowing room to adjust for imperfections of communication media).

Ravi said...

@Joe,
no formalization planned. The last thing I want is another "X Society of Bangalore". I've noticed that such formal groups often deteriorate into vehicles for personal ambition . More "spread the Holy Word" than "keep learning". You are right - the dynamics are different from the usual "X User Group" type meetings.

@Nisha,
No - never tried the "electronic forum" route. It is very (very) hard to find someone who knows what his/her life work is AND works steadily towards it. Mots people are sleepwalking through life.

The personal interaction seems to be critical. I can imagine some kind of shared blog type of medium but we never had a reason to use this.

Sanjoy Das said...

We have a similar group too - we meet regularly over chai; though it is probably less formal than what you have. We usually welcome anyone who does interesting things.

I've found it very helpful in helping maintain some sense of sanity.