Life, Startups & Religion

Posted on February 7, 2010

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As some of you know I attend the Ram Charitra Manas class at the Chinmaya Mission, taught by Acharya Prabodh. Today was the best class I have attended to date. It linked my life, work in startups and religion in a simple unifying statement.

The Acharya was explaining that “the mind is mythical”. Once you understand this everything will change. Imagine having a faulty blood pressure instrument, one day if you realize it is not correct, you will dis-regard everything it says. This is very difficult for us to understand or comprehend as the mind controls everything our senses perceive and everything we do.

Most people with scientific bent of mind would dismiss this. And thats ok. But you might ask what has this got to do with startups. Another person I respect a lot is Ashish Gupta with Helion Ventures. And he mentioned one day that “first principle thinking” was essential quality in a founder.

These two things connected for me when Acharya Prabodh said the “mind is mythical”.  One of the things which separates humans from animals is the separation between input and reaction (source: why zebra’s don’t get ulcers).  We can observe our brain respond and change that behavior. In some sense we can rewire our brain to respond differently to the same input. Pilots, fire fighters, doctors have all learned to do that with skill and experience. Now lets step back: when a child is born very few of the brain is wired, it is as we grow up and observe our parents, siblings, teachers, colleagues that we learn to react to particular things in a particular fashion. Those behaviors when repeated wire our brain.

If one accepts that, then it is also possible to rewire the brain, although it might be difficult as we get older.  The relationship to startups is similar. when you form a company it is like having a child which is thrust into this world. The company learns to respond to different inputs, the founders have to learn to rewire their original thinking and thought process as they learn more from the environment. Failure to rewire the startup almost always results in failure of the company.

In the environment we live in, rate of change has been increasing. Our parents probably worked for one company their entire life. Now people work for 5-10 companies in their lifetime. In 1995 there were very few cell phones, now we can’t imagine life without them. iPhones, tablet PCs, 3D TVs, twitter, facebook did not exist 5 years ago. Our children are going to refer to us as the people who used to use a keyboard. The rate of change is massive. If we can’t rewire our brains we will fail.

One of the things I admire most about my parents is their ability to adapt to new environments and situations. I think this is one of the things that has made them so successful and happy. Today it is a basic required skill, if you can’t rewire, you will be unhappy. There are many examples of this … friends who get married late, find it very hard to adapt and rewire.

The one most striking example which occurs to me is food. Imagine a kid of Indian origin who grew up in Italy. He will like italian food (no matter how much his parents feed him indian food at home).  The wiring of what food we like and dislike happens as we grow up. Once its there it is very hard to change.

Now let us stretch our belief system. So its possible to wire the brain differently. The brain is after all a set of cells which obey laws of chemistry and molecular biology. So we have some control over how to atleast connect the cells up. Do you think that the control stops there. Do you think that with adequate practice we could learn how to control at a molecular level? Regenerate red blood cells or liver or kidney’s selectively. Seems far fetched, but if you can rewire at a connection level, you can rewire at a a molecular level also. We just haven’t learnt the language to express.

Sometimes I feel sitting in the Ramayan class, what is the use of chanting the verses or ‘OM’ or ‘RAM’. One day I began chanting ‘OM’ in the car and the more I did it, the more I enjoyed it. I felt as if somewhere deep inside the body was resonating to the sound of ‘OM’ and was releasing a lot of energy. ‘OM’ may not be the word for you but you should definitely try it.

If you have injured a knee, sometimes they put medicine on top and then direct ultra-sonic waves on your knee, this pushes the medicine molecules in the skin and agitates the the molecules in your knee. If you think about it, its possible that cells combined together or even individually have a resonant frequency and if you pronounce ‘OM’ or other verses it gives us a way to communicate with them and maybe alter them also. Music a lot of people believe is fundamental part of who we are (for some folks music induces epiliptic  fits, for some it stops them).

Anyway if you can cross this bridge and believe that its possible to rewire the human body and the brain, then by essence, the body is not real or defining. If a given set of inputs make you unhappy, that is your brain which is responding to those inputs. You can rewire it and the same inputs may now make you very happy or indifferent. There is a truth beyond our mind?

I love startups. Its my way of life. As I have gotten older, when I put together a company, I think about what set of people together will have what kind of reaction or DNA or learning. In some sense we are wiring the brain of the company. And we can change it by changing the people or the communication or the input or output.

If you are a parent you are doing this every day for your children. You are wiring their brain. that is why in may cultures, the child is supposed to be form of God, because his brain is pure, unwired, unconditional to the responses. You can mould it in many different ways.

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