Horizontal gene transfer

Inheritance has played a big role in how kingdoms evolved and civilisations sustained. People passed on their wisdom to their future generations and created a sustained momentum of progress. The progress was largely confined within the family, a great medical practitioner will pass on the knowledge to the kids and make sure they memorise a lot of things and do not pass on the trade secrets to others. Slowly greed took over and instead of greater good, personal wealth and wellness took top priority. This is when territorial population got slowly disrupted by invaders who learnt to break the fragile unity and encouraged personal growth by turning people against their allies and eventually they also fell prey to invasion.


We think the world belongs to humans, it does not. It belongs to microbes. They are everywhere, in huge numbers and very very resilient. They are inside us, outside and have even learnt to live in hostile conditions. I also read in the newspapers about bacteria developing antibiotic resistance and quite difficult to treat if people get these resistant strains. I was curious on how bacteria develop resistance and stumbled on an article which explained about ‘Horizontal gene transfer‘. Bacteria do not just inherit the resistant genes vertically from their parents but also from other types of bacteria, virus, fungi (the list goes on) which may not even be virulent.

Learning and co-operating with others is what makes someone resilient along with their peers, this is what I inferred from my readings about horizontal gene transfer. If we concentrate only on personal growth and well being then it is just a short amount time before we lose out to groups which learn together. Personal growth is useful only when others around us also grow and sustain that momentum. There is a nice story about growing good corn, a farmer shares the quality seeds with neighbours to make sure cross pollination happens with healthy corn.

Winning alone and winner takes it all is a greedy task, it pushes people into damage control mode and work in transactions. People won’t remember us for our transactions, there is nothing to reciprocate in a transaction. It looks like we will not have a resilience building horizontal gene transfer equivalent for humans. We may eventually fizzle out of existence trying to outsmart each other.

You can only run, you cannot hide

Recently I read an article about NSA’s efforts in identifying Satoshi Nakamoto, who created bitcoin and remained elusive. NSA had spent a lot of resources at its disposal to create a writeprint to for billions of texts around the world and zero in on Satoshi.

Fingerprint plays a huge role in investigations as they provide a reliable identity which is difficult to change, before that identity was based on photographs, height, mole marks etc. So the quest for fingerprinting grew and now it is possible to get voiceprint, writeprint and can work on anything to create a unique signature about a person.

privacy-policy-2499720_640I read about this first in Simon Singh’s Code book, the book talks a lot about how cryptographers had to constantly be on the run to come up with new techniques just to be broken by cryptanalysts who find chinks in the armour, it is a never ending game. One of the interesting reads was about a fingerprinting technique called fist, which is a style arising due to the telegraph operator’s way using the telegraph key. While the messages were encrypted, the operator’s fist gave away the identity of the german troops and by radio frequency analysis the location was also identified. The messages which were encrypted was of no use to the British, but the location and identity proved to be vital  which was invaluable when there were no satellites.

I never took privacy and security seriously, but the more I read about and hear from friends the more insecure I feel. If someone is determined enough and have resources at hand, it is going to be an easy task to violate someone else’s security and privacy. More and more tools to break will be freely available and new technology is going to make current military grade encryptions cakewalk to break. If we need privacy we need to keep running, there is no place to hide.

p.s. Also read about ‘Dolphin attack‘ which takes vulnerabilities to new levels.

Stone soup

I read the story of stone soup when I was in primary school, I did not understand how someone made soup with a stone. It was too deep a concept to understand as a kid. It is about moving something from 0 to 1,  from then on there are plenty of ways and people to take care to take it forward.

running-498257_640Why is it hard to move something from 0 to 1? Our brains are hardwired to be anxiety neutral. It hates ambiguities and new things to do, that is why things like driving becomes a sub conscious activity by becoming motor memory, once we start driving often. On a day to day basis you can observe your tendency to be anxiety neutral, it may take up only 15 minutes a week to clean a table but it is too difficult to get started with it. When that thought is going on your mind, if someone starts cleaning it up, then you are more likely to join the task and get it done.

My last post was about getting started with something and getting people to join. The first person who does something new is perceived to be the lone nut, there is a fear of judgement that prevents people to start something. This was very evident in a aum meditation session where there were only few of us and we need to chant aum but every person was waiting for the other to start, I took the lead after the first two half hearted attempts by being the first person to start the chant and the rest followed.

There are two things needed for people to start doing new things,

  • Provide an environment which helps them to shed their fear of judgement
  • Be the lone nut and start something which someone else has in mind, it is for sure that someone will follow.

The first point is not easy to address but it is too easy to be someone who starts doing things to facilitate change. We should shed our fear of judgement and be okay to do something that will be criticised. The results are surprising, what might take days to nudge someone to do something from scratch is way too easy to make them pick up a rough draft and take it to completion. Making stone soup is not deception, it is a tool to help people come out of their anxiety neutrality.


Build it like a sports team

Is it easy to get a crash course in football by Pele or Maradona for a week and produce a world cup winning football team?

Answer is NO. Then why do lots of people in the corporate world think of hiring scrum trainers & expert developers to train their team for a week and then expect their team to be undergo a transformation at a magical scale?


German football team made it a point to transform their team and it took them a lots of years before they were able to reach the pinnacle. A quick side by side comparison of what is causing agile transformation to fail.


Football: Someone was there owning this entire transformation, the German football association spent a lot of time identifying talent in their teens and groomed them.

Office: In the corporate world switching jobs every few years have become common, but there is no passing on of the context, resulting in the new person taking charge, starting from all over again, as well as frustrating existing good performers who have to rebuild the perception.


Football: Players expecting state of the art training facilities, fitness programs and new shoes are not a luxury, it is a necessity.

Office: Computers have become so cheap compared to the salaries, yet the policy of providing the best tools and good work environment are archaic.

Coach vs Management

Football: Coaches are given their due powers to help the team achieve the goal. It is very easy for anyone to comment on how professionals should play their game, there would be no use adhering to the metrics if the team cannot win. Winning is the only measure for management.

Office: Often coaches are seen as part of the management or management tries to heavily influence coaching which results in a team which will work either for metrics or to please higher ups without the actual result that it had aimed for.


Football: Just the ability to kick the ball does not make a footballer. Training will be introduced to increase physical strength & stamina, better mental wellness, injury prevention, tactics and strategy.  A heavy investment is made in the training facilities.

Office: In the software industry a generation is about 2-3 years. Computer science degrees are nowhere near what is state of the art in the industry. At many places the on boarding process is either very shallow or not up to date with the recent developments, leaving people to learn most of the things hard way. Given too many things to learn and the information overload, this results in inefficient learning and application of knowledge on the job. We need to prepare people to find answers that are not available on Google.

Team composition

Football: Rookies don’t learn by watching greats from the bench, instead they play along with the veterans. Every sports team makes sure to have the right composition with a mix of rookies, emerging players and veterans. That is how they sustain a winning team.

Office: Architects and Leads often do not code or not part of the team every day, this means that most of the time the team just looks up to for advice or waits for reviews. There should be a good mix of people at all experience level so that there are enough people to try new things, enough people who have mastered few things and enough people who challenge change.

Above all – Persistence

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race. ~ Calvin Coolidge

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Every one of us have our share of bad judgement and we either get away with it or we pay a heavy price for that. An idea that friendly strangers are bad would have prevented me from getting some great friends, yet we carry around stereotypes and preconceived ideas every day and put to use those ones. Some of the things which affect our judgement are

Ladder of inference/ Mental models

I came across these terms in Peter Senge’s The fifth discipline. It is about how we form opinions based on our narrow scope of observation and later on due to the influence of those opinions we form, we select the data from the event which validates our opinions. This was very well explained by one of my peers through an activity.

The facilitator randomly threw few pens on the floor and asked the audience for a number, the audience counted the no. of pens and gave an answer which he rejected by giving some random number. He continued to do the same thing many times and the audience started giving random numbers for ten consecutive times. After that he revealed that he was showing the number in his hands and the pens on the floor was just a decoy, post that when he threw the pens down people started noticing the number in his hand. In this experiment people just formed an opinion by relating to the pens down on the floor and the number.

It is no wonder why people form opinions based on their first impression/interaction, the world we perceive is just a model we have created based on the data we selected which are hardly verifiable or incomplete facts.

Recency effect/ Primacy effect

It is very easy to remember things which happened recently than a while ago. It is also very very easy to remember the first encounter but lots of things which happen in the middle tends to get lost. This effect in the hands of business people has become an effective tool but in the layman’s world if only the first and last things matter; then people who put a consistent effort to maintain something are not rewarded much compared to people who just create a great first impression and leave on a positive note but have completely messy approach.

We are always on the run and may not be able to review things as a whole but it is better to not concentrate on first and last things but look at things as a whole, it is very easy for us to form opinions based on just the first and recent impressions.

Availability heuristics

This is tricky, we like to consider ourselves intelligent and knowledgable; so we think that we have carefully selected the data and formed our opinions. Things which happen as expected is never a news, the one which comes up in the news is always something odd. News is often sensationalized, a good example is about the safety of the airplane travel. If we are able to imagine something vividly, then it is easy for us to picture the good things or pitfalls in it. We always look for shortcuts to confirm our opinions are right and that affects our judgement a lot, this often combines with the recency effect.

Good judgement comes with experience, experience comes with bad judgement

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Seeders and Leechers

This is a follow up of my previous post Nice Guys, do you finish first?

I got to know the term seeders and leachers from the Torrents. The term leeching is very common in the computing world,  but is it relevant in any other context?

Yes it is relevant in other contexts as well, I keep observing these in my workplaces. Some of the workplaces I have seen has very rigid written performance expectations and assessment criteria. The performance evaluation is nothing but a way of identifying the leechers and removing them from the system. The key problem in this setting is that the cause and effect might be very spread apart and it is easy to find ways to comply with every word from the expectations set and still be a leecher. Lots of tools and methods at the workplace evolve at a very rapid pace which makes it hard to keep the expectations at a written form and convey to people.

Who is a seeder? Is someone who comes to work delivers the job as per requirement and goes home a seeder?

A seeder is someone who not only does her job but also makes sure the peers need not rework or struggle in the coming days as result of her job. If a team contains lots of seeders then there is effective communication, on time delivery and a good balance of work and life. The team can pretty much handle themselves without a need for a supervisor. On the other hand if the team contains lots of leechers, then there is a need for a supervisor to keep a check on the delivery and try to remove the leechers out of the team.

Any example of a leecher? What happens if we dont remove them from the system?

Let us take the example from the documentary Nice guys finish first, the social setting of a group birds is such that each bird removes of the ticks from the other birds. Each bird is groomed by someone else to be healthy. In this setting it is very easy for a bird to get groomed and get away without returning the favour. The bird which exploits the social setting is a leecher. If we dont remove the leecers from the system then the overall advancement of the system is very limited and will encourage selfish behaviour.

Unfortunately it is not so easy to find leeching in self organized teams, the reason is that leeching might be involuntary through unconscious incompetence. The individuals might not realize that they are over grazing the resources and soon going to add pressure on their team mates. Timely facilitated retrospectives, reflections and corrective actions without penalties will help improve the well being of the self organized teams.

Image: africa / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Nice guys, do you finish first?

Nice Guys Finish First” documentary by Richard Dawkins throws some light on why Altruism is a very necessary element. The theme of the documentary is reciprocal altruism, simple explanation given is “Individuals allow themselves to remain in the same state or move to a lower state to help another person go up in state within the community”. The theory was applied to a large set where there are plenty of interactions within the observed group, the race to the bottom was inevitable where exploitation of the resources were present.

The definition of the nice guy was demonstrated using the prisoner’s dilemma as a computer game tournament.  The rules were simple,

  • If two players co-operate then they take equal share of the output.
  • If one of the players does not play nice, then the cheater gets a steal and the loser gets nothing.
  • If both try to cheat, then they end up with lesser output than they would have co-operatively got out.
  • There are more than one turn for each player to play against the same player.

Many people submitted their programs as players in the tournament with varied strategies. The one which Richard Dawkins called as nice guy was the “Tit for Tat” strategy. Tit for tat strategy won the tournament. The following were the observations of the nice guy in a setting were multiple interactions with the same individual is possible.

  • Is always co-operative unless cheated.
  • Keeps in mind who cheats and does not co-operate with the cheaters.
  • Will be the first person to forgive and give a chance to the cheaters to be co-operative.

This also reminded me of the Allegory of long spoons.  I also have seen some real life examples of nice people living the best life than the people around them.

Nice people, do you finish at the top?

Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/garryknight/2490056817/